Green Collar Job Training Program Focuses on At-risk Youth

The city of Santa Fe has found that two of its problems, a high percentage of high school drop outs and a lack of green collar workers, have the same solution — a green collar job training program that recruits from a pool of at risk youths.

The Green Collar Job Training Program’s aim was to develop a community response to the rising drop-out rate and the difficulty many local business face finding qualified local employees. The program consists of on-the-job training, academic skill building and job counseling.

The first trainees in the program, which was unveiled on September 24th by the program partners who include the City of Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Alliance, and ¡YouthWorks!, were a group of six local youths.

Trainees work four full days each week and earn the local living wage of US $9.50 an hour. Participating businesses contribute the first US $6.50 per hour while the remaining US $3.00 per hour is covered by the program. Youthworks on the job trainingIf the trainees choose to pursue a career in their given trade they have the potential to make significantly more. According Cedar Mountain Solar Partner and General Manager Boaz Soifer, installers can make up to US $20 an hour. Wages only increase from there with further certification or a journeyman’s license.

Each Friday the trainees attend a class at the Santa Fe Community College for credit. The class was developed by ¡YouthWorks! and Earth Care International and is centered on concepts of sustainability but also focuses on college readiness, career exploration, basic science, math and writing skills.

Three local businesses participated in the pilot phase of the program, Cedar Mountain Solar Systems, a solar plumbing and heating contractor, Shanahan and Associates, a green contractor, and Los Amigos Educational Resource Center, which provides weatherization and energy efficiency services to disadvantaged communities.

The program came about through a series of round-table discussions between the Santa Fe Alliance, the Santa Fe Public Schools, the Living Wage Network, the City of Santa Fe Economic Development Division, the Santa Fe Community College, Earth Care International and local business leaders.

According to ¡YouthWorks! Education Coordinator Tobe Bott-Lyons, their pilot, which involved six youths and three businesses was funded by the Santa Fe Economic Development Division. They where given US $29,000, which was able to fund everything from supplementing the trainees income to covering the staff that ¡YouthWorks! dedicated to the program. The program has been invited by the city to apply for a grant for Innovation in Economic Development. The proposal is for US $160,000 and Bott-Lyons says that with that money “we would be on our feet and ready to go.”

According to Cedar Mountain Solar Partner’s Soifer, the benefit of his company’s participation in the program was that it helped offset employee training costs and that the company was able to hire one of the trainees. Because Santa Fe’s has a high drop-out rate, Soifer is pleased that the program “helps those who have dropped out find supportive and economic ways to stay in the community.”

The Santa Fe Alliance, a business membership organization, had the role in the partnership of promoting the program, recruiting and training employers on mentorship skills, tax benefits and various other issues relating to participating in the program.

Soifer, who is also on the board of the Santa Fe Alliance, said that the main reason the Alliance participated in the program was that “green jobs are the kind of jobs that can’t be outsourced.”

According to Green For All Field Director Jeremy Hays, Green Collar Job Training programs for the underprivileged have the potential to help solve the two major crises facing the country today, the energy crisis and the finical crisis. At the same time, these types of training programs have the potential to lift people out of poverty by giving them a leg up in the expanding green economy. Finally programs like these have an environmental benefit that can’t be ignored, which Hays summarized neatly saying that “they insure that the people who most need the work do the work that most needs to be done.”

Youthworks whole group photo

Youthworks group photo. Credit:  Maria Dominguez, YouthWorks

Beyond New Mexico

Santa Fe does not stand alone. It joins other cities that also host green collar job training programs such as the Green Collar Jobs Campaign in Oakland, California, Blacks in Green (BIG) in Chicago, Illinois, and Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training (B.E.S.T.) in New York, New York.

Bott-Lyons identified five key elements present in his program that would be necessary to replicate the program in other cities. First there needs to be an organization like ¡YouthWorks! that has a strong connection with at risk or “disconnected” youth. Also necessary is an employment preparation program that helps these youths attain their GED and trains to do things like “how to show up on time” and how to “deal with their manager.”

Second, an organization needs to be involved like the Santa Fe Business Alliance that is interested in supporting the local green economy. “Businesses are in this to help their business but also to help the community,” said Bott-Lyons. Recruitment for local businesses is a problem so they are motivated to see this program succeed. Their ability to advocate the program and recruit more businesses is essential because their advocacy to other businesses is be more effective that that of another source.

The third key element to replicating the program, according to Bott-Lyons, is to have an organization like Earth Care International involved that is dedicated to sustainability education. Though Earth Care International’s focus is not at risk youth or technical training their experience was essential in developing the class that the trainees take at the local community college.

The fourth element is community college with an emerging renewable energy program that is interested in recruiting from at risk youths. The class in this case is centered around concepts of sustainability and within that context focuses on college readiness, career exploration, basic science, math and writing skills.

Program trainee James Monpoya has been training with Cedar Mountain Solar and says that he is learning a lot about sustainability and how green collar is coming into the community. He is also learning the basics of how to start up a small business.

Finally, the final piece of the puzzle is leadership in and support from the government. The city of Santa Fe has targeted green building and renewable energy growth in response to a state wide initiative. According to Cedar Mountain Solar Partner and General Manager Boaz Soifer, the governor has declared that he “wants to make New Mexico the Saudi Arabia of Renewables.”

“Its been good for me, I’ve learned a lot,” said Monpoya. “I like the job and the people I work with.”

For more information about the program or the trainees, visit the ¡YouthWorks! Website.

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