02:58 PM Feb 10, 2011
In President Obama’s State of the Union address last month, the President discussed a number of ways he will try to revitalize the U.S. economy and put Americans back to work. He discussed the creation of jobs in the infrastructure, healthcare, and education fields, but focused most on the potential for our economy from innovations and investments in clean energy. President Obama discussed a variety of ways we can green our economy and build up our workforce. But a new workforce requires training so that skilled workers can adapt to newer forms of technology, construction, transportation, and manufacturing.
This week organizations, union leaders, business leaders, and environmentalists from around the country will be gathering in Washington for the Blue Green Alliance’s Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference. The JCPA and COEJL are co-conveners of this conference. One topic of conversation bound to be discussed is how we put Americans back to work while training them to take part in the new green economy?
One solution is the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), set to be reauthorized this year. WIA authorizes the nation’s federally funded workforce development system and provides funding for “one-stop” career centers in which employers and job seekers can access a wide array of employment and training services. Title I of WIA is of priority to the JCPA and COEJL because it targets adults, dislocated works, and youth, including a focus on populations that are hardest hit by the economy. Services under WIA Title I range from information about careers and the local job market, to job search assistance, to training services for occupational skills and on-the-job training. Traditionally, WIA services have focused on short-term crisis intervention. A report by the Center for American Progress states that WIA services focus on “helping people re-enter the workforce quickly rather than counseling workers and helping them receive the training and education they need to find a long-term, well-paying job.”
One way to guarantee that someone is entering a long-term career it to make sure the training they receive corresponds to the jobs that are out there and to the current economy. Clean energy and green jobs are part of an emerging field that will need many well-trained workers. Clean energy has positive environmental, security, and economic benefits for the U.S., which is why many consider this area a wise investment. If we are to reach the goals that President Obama set out in his State of the Union, we need to start training workers now—not just young students in high school and college, but also those that have been dislocated because of the loss of manufacturing jobs and the collapse of the real estate market.
WIA funds can be used to start training these workers and creating the skill sets needed to enter (or re-enter) the job market. There are a variety of opportunities to work with state and local workforce investment boards, educational institutions, labor unions, and businesses to train people in:
- Construction- retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient and construction that uses nontoxic and energy efficient techniques
- The creation of energy efficient automobiles and the creation of more efficient public transportation
- Sustainable energy
- Green manufacturing
- Waste and water management
WIA funds have already been used in the area of green jobs during the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). For example in June 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger, through ARRA funding, awarded $10 million to eleven programs in California. The programs trained 1,500 at-risk youth for technical, construction, and other skilled-jobs in “environmentally-friendly” industries. In the California Green Jobs Corps, each program operated as a partnership between workforce investment boards, community colleges, non-profits, and private sector employers.
This funding was a onetime occurrence through ARRA. But its success can be magnified if similar types of government support are created in the WIA reauthorization bill. The long-lasting effects will substantially benefit low-and moderate-income workers who require on-the-job training and services for today’s economy. If the goal is to create long-term jobs, support for well-developed training should be a Congressional priority and the WIA is an important way to get us there.