The Greening of the Work Force

Movie chronicles South Boston construction workers' transition to "green" jobs.

April 14, 2009, 11:20 PM

April 15, 2009 — -- The traditionally tough, blue-collar neighborhood of South Boston, aka "Southie," is on the forefront of a "green" revolution and offers an example of a a blooming green work force.

Steel-toed construction workers helped erect the city's first green building, and now the Macallen building stands as a revolutionary, eco-friendly structure. It also represents a bridge to a greener future -- one the president said is essential to America's economic success in the 21st century.

President Obama has pledged to spend $150 billion in the next decade to create 5 million green jobs.

The huge undertaking involves mostly jobs in traditional industries, such as construction.

The message is clear: Green collar jobs are the wave of the future.

The new stimulus plan will inject about $70 billion into green jobs, and by next year, 10 percent of all new buildings are expected to be green, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.

More than 500 men and women built the Macallen building, and many of those jobs ran the entire length of construction.

But going green means retraining entire industries, as was done with the Macallen project.

Building a better facility meant learning a new set of skills, such as how to install a living roof made of soil and plants that sucks up carbon from dirty city air and helps cool and heat the building.

And the effort still wasn't without its skeptics.

The Greening of Southie

Even some union workers tasked with bringing this environmentally-friendly building to life aren't quite sure what it really means.

"Everybody said, 'Green building? What do you mean? They're going to paint this green?'" said one construction worker who appeared in the new film "The Greening of Southie," which documents the project.

Filmmakers Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis recorded what it takes to build this new work force in the film. They learned it's not always easy.

The good news is that the retraining is already starting to happen, Ellis said. With construction workers, their unions are showing them new green ways to build and how to use recycled steel and new materials.

At the same time, there are about 1,200 community colleges around the country offering courses in green retraining at prices that most people can afford, he added.

Some workers are being retrained right now on the job site for such tasks as sorting material for recycling, but other more complicated jobs such as wiring solar arrays and welding on a wind turbine 200 feet up can take up to a couple of years of community college training, he said.

Getting Ready for the Green Revolution

For unemployed workers who already have the basic skills -- plumbers, electricians and welders -- they just need to gain extra knowledge like working with low-flow toilets or a new, efficient electrical system, Cheney said.

Ellis said that 500,000 were created last year alone and that there's been a surge of unemployed workers enrolling in community college courses that offer training for green jobs.

Still many workers don't really understand what's available right now, Ellis said.

But the greening of the work force could help revive the sagging economy.

Ellis said the most exciting thing about the green economy is that people from all economic and educational levels can get in. Green jobs run from entry-level jobs like collecting scrap for recycling at a construction site to such six-figure jobs as working as an engineer to build the new car batteries of the future.

Ellis and Cheney said the best place to start looking for a green job is with nonprofit groups focused on building the new green work force. Green for All, the Apollo Alliance and the Blue Green Alliance have great Web sites with information about green jobs.

Click here to learn more about the film "The Greening of Southie" and click here to visit

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