Green Jobs Stakeholder Meeting: July 28, 2017

The first Green Jobs Stakeholder meeting was organized by representatives from five local organizations: Janet Brown from Climate Generation, Elena Foshay from Center for Energy and Environment, Bree Halverson of BlueGreen Alliance, Megan O’Hara from Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light (MNIPL), and Jamez Staples of Renewable Energy Partners. With the goal to foster a collective vision on creating green job pathways in Minnesota for underrepresented communities, the meeting’s 36 attendees represented both public and private sectors, including state government, education, workforce programs, renewable energy, efficiency programs, nonprofit, and business.

The meeting, facilitated by Alex Clark of turnlane, kicked off with getting to the heart of defining green jobs. What are they, what do they look like for Twin Cities communities, and how have attendees been defining them in their work?

“All the wisdom you have needs to come out today,” Clark emphasized.

It was clear that the attendees had passion and a vested interest in the issue of green jobs. A colorful wall of Post-Its formed, creating clusters of green job characteristics that could be broken into the following six headings: 1) Supply living wage, 2) Youth-focused, 3) Equitable, 4) Conservation-focused, 5) Inform the public, and 6) Form multi-sector community ties and relationships. It was noted as essential to keep these six topics at the center of the conversation.

Janet Brown, Associate Director of Climate Generation, presented on Minnesota’s changing climate. Minneapolis ranks number two in the 25 U.S. cities most affected by climate change, while St. Paul sits at number eight. Our state truly is eyewitness to climate change effects, as Minnesota winters are warming faster than any state in the U.S. Minnesota only has to gain from the clean energy economy as we spend $13 billion a year on importing dirty fossil fuels. At the same time, we have great capacity for renewable energy generation across the entire state, with strong potential for green job creation. However, as many clean energy employers seek to hire new workers, they cite lack of training and hands-on experience are the leading reason why they have a hard time finding workers.

While clean energy employers struggle to find workers, low-income Minnesotans and people of color in the state struggle to access education and quality jobs. The educational achievement gap for people of color in Minnesota is one of the worst in the nation, which correlates directly with disparities in the workforce. It is critical to increase STEM academic achievement in young underrepresented students.

Jamez Staples, President of Renewable Energy Partners (REP), spoke about REP’s role in the local community providing career opportunities in the emerging solar energy industry for people of color while mitigating climate change. Staples has been working on green job initiatives for a long time, and he sees three big problems: climate, poverty, and job accessibility. The unemployment rate for African Americans nationwide is appallingly high; climate change needs to be addressed equitably by creating pathways for people of color and minority business enterprises. Increased access to training and capital for start ups is the first step in getting people who have not been engaged in the workforce to do so. Multipurpose training facilities are the way of the future, with hands-on training and learning experiences at the center of instruction. A clean energy future in Minnesota contains energy career pathways that narrow gaps in skills, education, and income. Minnesota can solidify its position as a clean energy/climate leader; a North Minneapolis training facility could be the model of urban sustainability for the state.

Elena Foshay, Community Energy Program Manager from the Center for Energy and Environment, highlights the “catch 22” in green jobs development. Candidates are saying “I can’t find a job” while employers are saying “I can’t find good people.” Hailing from California, she outlined the green workforce development initiatives happening with great success out West. State and local policy sets the framework, including a statewide climate action plan and local targeted hiring requirements to ensure disadvantaged community members have access to jobs created by public investments. Green Energy Training Services (GETS), a program of Rising Sun Energy Center, was started in 2008 in California with funding for an 80-hour energy efficiency training program. It evolved into a pre-apprenticeship training program that readies individuals for work in the construction, energy efficiency, and solar industries. GETS also works one-on-one with participants to overcome barriers to employment, including assistance requesting background check waivers, accessing stable housing and/or child care, addressing driver’s license issues, obtaining appropriate work clothes, transportation planning, and support with interview/resume writing skills, as well as providing stipends during training or paid internships.

The attending stakeholders brought up frustrations they see in their own work. Most companies don’t want to include company dollars and staff time to do comprehensive training. What could solutions look like for this? Perhaps bridge programs from school to business, subsidies from granting foundations or DEED for on-the-job training, or apprenticeship training models. The success of broadcasting the availability and need for green jobs was debated as well. GETS in California found that word of mouth, case manager presentations to partner organizations, and individual support through the application process were impactful methods for outreach.

With so many leaders across sectors in the room, it was essential to understand each individual’s goal. The stakeholders were asked three questions: What kind of Minnesota are we trying to create with the Green Jobs Initiative? What needs to be present to create this vision? What work is your organization doing to move it forward? After brainstorming what a just, sustainable state looks like, the room opened up for conversation.

Stakeholders envision a Minnesota with equal access to food, education, jobs, shelter, etc., and a state that is healthy and fair. They see security in democracy, and resiliency in the people. There is recognition that changes in one sector equal changes in another, and bridging the gap between education and the workforce is a core value. Collaboration and balance is at the heart of creating a full spectrum of opportunity for all individuals.

Achieving that vision is already underway. The organizations and businesses attending the event represent powerful and impactful programs currently taking place throughout the Twin Cities metro, from education and training to career development, collecting data, and engaging local citizens and government officials. However, across sectors there was frustration regarding the lack of involvement of utilities and other employers (as key players in the development of green job pathways), how to address the duplication of programs and competition for funding streams, and how to truly achieve equity in access to opportunity. Not to mention that programs might need to be prioritized; which projects should and can lead the way in closing the workforce gap? With many individual programs working toward similar ends, the need for a higher level of collaborative work is clear.

While the work local initiatives are doing is vast, there were still some holes in the framework for creating systemic pathways to green jobs. This includes engagement of organizations that specifically represent disadvantaged populations and people of color, clear job pathways from training to clean energy employment, and training/education programs for students who are not on track for a 4-year college degree.

Equitable access to green jobs is an issue that takes collaboration and strategy. Discovering why this is important and what the specific barriers are is key to continuing the work. Stakeholders shared the need for scaling this issue up to state agency levels, as well as getting tactical about overcoming barriers to job creation and job access. Future meetings must include underrepresented communities and focus on steps that lead to real action and results. And, the need for a clear, unified goal across sectors is what will truly keep the issue impassioned, alive, and moving forward.

View the meeting’s recap page, including presentations and agendas.

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