The Real Payback on Green Job Training Programs

Analysts with no field experience can paint a very bleak picture of the green job market and related training programs. In reality, hard numbers on employment post training are hard to come by. A handful of eager media representatives characterized green training programs as ineffective, drains on the economy, and in the worst reports as adding more to the problem than the solution. The benefits of these programs for individuals, communities, and the potential growth of the US’s renewables market is rarely quantified in numbers. The reality experienced by actual trainees is quite different.

Green job training programs typically focus on energy efficiency and renewables education for low-income and/or blue collar communities. The objective is simple: to educate the working class of America for jobs in one of the most stable sectors in the US market. Since the majority of work previously done by the working class has been exported to countries with cheap labor, the United States has struggled to create industries to employ its population without college-level degrees. This sector of the population typically works hourly jobs without benefits, pensions, or significant opportunities for advancement. Green job training programs were originally designed to provide these individuals with relevant training in a growing field.

Admittedly, the field has not grown fast enough to provide work for all of the newly trained individuals, yet this trend is similar to all sectors of the economy including finance and technology. With renewables making up 7% of the nation’s energy mix, the opportunities in the field are limited. Yet the growth of small to medium businesses that are providing home energy audits, energy efficiency programs, and other services that address the energy sector are seeing significant growth. Traditionally, the United States invests in various job training programs dependent on the potential of future markets. Renewables has garnered international respect, and in many cases necessity, as a market that will grow and continue to evolve into the foreseeable future.

Yet training the nation’s working class in one of the upcoming markets is not the main benefit of the programs. The social benefits experienced by communities that host the trainings have been significant. Job trainings are not in place solely to grow the market, but to do so through the professional and personal development of the workforce. These programs offer individuals with little opportunity the chance to engage in a program that may help lift them out of poverty. The skill sets learned in any job-training program improves an individual’s chance of finding employment. From interviewing skills to confidence building, these programs provide a safe place for learning and development.

In an article written by Kristina Rizga at Mother Jones, she highlights her time following green training students through a program in the Bay Area. The stories of the individuals, the response to the program, and the trainings serving as a medium to help individuals sort through their personal issues to be able to accomplish something in their professional lives is powerful.

So in the end green job training programs enhance the trainee’s personal life, educate their interactions with the environment, and provide the opportunity to find meaningful employment. Empowering and educating a nation’s population is often overlooked as a key way to create strong, reliable, and innovative markets. Training programs are one of several initiatives designed to help individuals succeed, while directing their success toward key national objectives. When reviewing the numbers, little is known about an individual’s success, community improvements, and the potential as the market continues to grow for employment. Often times, these are far more significant measures of how a nation is thriving, not simply surviving, during difficult times as quantified in new measurements such as the Happiness Index among others.

The challenge will be to help one another move beyond the traditional measurement of numbers toward more qualitative assessments that value more than simply employment numbers in a down economy.

Photo Credit: Green For All on Flickr

Tiffany Finley started her sustainability journey while camping in the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota. Since then she has been dedicated to reconciling the industrial and the natural world views to create a hybridized mode of development toward sustainability. Majoring in Environmental Management in the US and then obtaining a Master's of Science in Strategic Leadership toward Sustainability in Sweden, she takes an analytical view based on science. She works with non-profits, small to medium businesses, and government organizations to strategize for sustainability in their respective sectors. Honored to join the writing cast at Triple Pundit, she looks forward to covering a wide range of sustainability news.

3 responses

  1. The “learn how to work” aspect of green job training is not a new realization. It’s what was called Public Service Employment (job creation) under the predecessor of WIA, the Job Training Partnership Act, and was that Act’s most effective component.

    Unfortunately it was abused by local governments who laid off regular workers and filled behind them with federally-funded PSE workers. This abuse caused Congress prohibit WIA from funding PSEs.

    So, sort-of, what you praise green jobs training for actually is illegal under WIA.

    Another concern about this sort-of-PSE benefit of green job training is that many of the trainees are mature dislocated workers who know very well how to work. For them, the green jobs training provides no benefits and dashes hopes built up by the salesmanship of green-energy zealots whose preoccupation is sexy technology and goosing the system in the green energy direction. These zealots seem to have little or no regard for the mental health of unemployed human beings to whom they sell a wishful-thinking-based bill of goods: “Study hard and meaningful jobs await you in this ‘can’t fail’ new industry that, moreover, will drag the US economy out of the current recession.”

    Not very nice.

    1. Small correction to Karl’s comments. The Public Service Employment Program was actually part of the Comprehensive Employmnet and Training Act(CETA). CETA was actually the predecessor of JTPA.

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