Work Scarce for Obama's Green Job Training Grads


A Few Successes, But Most Still Struggling To Find A Job

Some places have seen much higher job placement rates for their green job training programs. One stimulus-funded green training program run by Worksystems, Inc., in Portland, Ore., has placed 54 out of 74 graduates in jobs, as of April 12. Its goal is to place 180 people in jobs out of the projected 225 who will complete the green training.

Jason Hartke, vice president of national policy for the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C., credits the city of Portland for much of the success.

"Portland has been so successful because they've been on the leading edge for green policies across the board. Portland has done more on green building than a lot of other jurisdictions. They're clearly a leader." He also said that Portland has created jobs in the construction retrofit, geothermal and solar areas through various programs and policies over the years, which is why they're able to plug these green job training program graduates into jobs.

A Sluggish Economy

"I think the main reason that training programs are struggling to place all of their graduates is a question of supply and demand," said Katherine Daniel, a program manager at Green for All, an organization based in Oakland, Calif., that advocates for green jobs and green policies to combat poverty. With a continued economic recession and so many people graduating from these programs, there simply are not enough jobs available now.

Michael Gibson, senior vice president of Business Development for Gray Connective, a Pennsylvania company that provides energy efficiency services to businesses, has hired graduates of the Lehigh Valley green job training program. He says he's not surprised at the difficulty faced by green job training graduates. "In many states, solar and wind energy are fledgling industries," Gibson said. "They don't have large numbers of companies to hire employees as other industries."

Gibson added that his company is pleased with the employees he hired from the green job training program, but he said many companies may hesitate because the graduates of these programs may need additional training once hired. "Many of these programs train employees for very entry-level type skill sets, which are not extensive enough to be what we call 'field ready,'" he said.

Before applying for its grant, Workforce Connection, in Ocala, took steps to ensure the program's success: participating in a green business summit, for instance, and conducting planning sessions with more than 60 community leaders.

"It was appearing there was a lot of interest and a lot of buzz," said COO Kathleen Woodring. "There was a lot of discussion about tax incentives, credits for solar energy, being able to upgrade products in your home and get some money back for it." But by January 2010, the economy continued its downward slide, and employers weren't hiring as expected.

"There have been changes in employers in local areas or changes in hiring patterns," said Jane Oates, assistant secretary of employment and training administration at the Department of Labor. "So clearly we have seen some grantees who really believed that economic development was going to lead to growth in one particular area under green, and that didn't materialize."

Another factor in the difficulty with placing graduates is that some people who qualify for these grant-funded green job training programs have criminal histories.

"There's a huge stigma against people with criminal backgrounds regardless of what the background is due to," said Green for All's Daniel. "So the government and the Department of Labor have created programs trying to specifically increase skills of those groups so they can compete with those jobs."

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