Work Scarce for Obama's Green Job Training Grads

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Brian Williams has dreamed of working in the solar field ever since he first heard about it in the 1970s. So when a new green job training program arrived in his hometown of Ocala, Fla., Williams, now 53, signed up immediately.

The program – one of many around the country -- is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and geared toward helping unemployed workers, low-income individuals, high school dropouts or people with criminal records.

When he joined one year ago, Williams was unemployed. During his training at Workforce Connection, a non-profit organization in Ocala, he learned basic skills, such as job interviewing, and more advanced ones, such as solar installation.

And while he's no longer unemployed – he runs an auto repair shop at his house – he couldn't find a job in the green field since graduating from the program in February. Not only were there very few green jobs available in Ocala, the companies he did apply to didn't end up hiring him.

"Given the economy, I really wasn't surprised," he told "I didn't really expect to necessarily get hired right away, but I would've liked to."

Williams isn't alone. According to the most recent data from the BlueGreen Alliance and the Economic Policy Institute, there were 3,586 graduates of Department of Labor-funded green job training programs as of Sept. 30, 2010, but only 466 entered new jobs upon completion of the program.

Economy Hurts Green Job Training Grads

Stimulus money for green industry training was funneled through the Labor Department, which reports that $490 million out of the $500 million outlined in the Recovery Act has been awarded; most of the grants were awarded in January 2010.

But many of these training programs say the green jobs are not out there.

As of April 15, only 55 of Workforce Connection's 304 green job training program graduates have found jobs. Some of those jobs are not even green. Workforce has spent about half of its $2.9 million grant and is now working with the Labor Department to modify it to focus more on placing graduates in jobs, rather than training.

Asheville Buncombe Christian Ministry, in Asheville, N.C., began a green job training program funded by stimulus dollars in March 2010. As of April 15, ABCCM has placed 51 of its 111 graduates in jobs, not all of them green. "As far as green jobs are concerned, the jobs are definitely not waiting there for the graduates," said Susan Garrett, ABCCM's Green Jobs Director.

In Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board is seeing mixed results. Its weatherization training program has had a high job placement rate, with 15 of its 23 graduates being employed, as of April 15. But out of more than 100 participants in its "Pathways to Green Jobs" basic skills and green jobs training, only 22 are now employed.

LVWIB's executive director, Nancy Dischinat, said the economy has a lot to do with the lack of green jobs, but she remains optimistic. "At least we have growth potential there. We have projected openings," said Dischinat, referring to a report produced by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry that projects 41,190 new green jobs by 2012.

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."

Tax Incentives and Credits Needed

Asheville Buncombe's Garrett pointed out that growth in the green sector has been inhibited because many consumers are hesitant to spend money on the relatively high initial costs of "going green."

"In a tight economy, people are cautious," she said. "They're not inclined to open up their pockets for something like home energy efficiency retrofits because it's very intangible."

That's a concern echoed by other green training program coordinators. Woodring said it will take things like tax incentives and credits for solar energy to coax consumers into using green products and services.

For now, many green job training program coordinators say the remedy for the difficulty with placing graduates in green jobs will be, quite simply, time.

"I think we have to see some recovery to the economy before we're going to be able to move at any good pace into the green jobs," said Woodring. She added that consumers need to be patient with new green technologies because, although they are pricey now, they won't always be. Woodring compared it with the initial high cost of computers when they were first put on the market. "As we produce more, it will get better," she said. "It will become a bit more affordable."

Signs of Hope

While areas such as green building construction are suffering due to a hard hit from the housing slump, areas such as the wind turbine industry appear to be growing significantly. A "Careers in Wind Energy" report released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in November 2010 called wind power "the fastest growing sector in renewable energy," with more than 10,000 megawatts of new wind energy capacity having been installed in 2009, the most in any year so far.

Oates said certain green jobs such as conservation and recycling, solar panel manufacturing, and wind turbine technicians have seen significant job growth. "I think we are seeing positive outcomes," she said. "And I think as the economy improves, we'll only accelerate the positive outcomes that we're witnessing."

Woodring, with Workforce Connection, said it's important for green job training graduates to remain optimistic. She points to some success stories as hope for recent graduates. Take 35-year-old Jason Warble for example. He was jobless for four months, until he signed up for green job training with Workforce Connection.

About a month after completing training, he landed a job that he loves, as a landscaper for PROscape in Florida. His advice for potential green employees: "You take advantage of [training programs]. You get in there, and you learn it... Any training and knowledge you can get in life is always a good thing."

As for Brian Williams in Ocala, Fla., he said he remains optimistic about getting a job in the solar field and wants to eventually start his own solar installation company. contributor Amy Rigby is a member of the ABC News on Campus bureau in Gainesville, Fla.