On July 12, 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the organization’s plan to award $6.2 million in workforce development and job training grants to 21 communities across the nation. The funds, used to train job-seekers in the green industry, will help to qualify participants for careers in areas like weatherization, brownfield redevelopment, energy efficiency, and energy auditing. An emphasis on green jobs will have effects on the federal and local level, as cities like Los Angeles grow new partnerships between government, business, and private and public organizations to create a workforce that meets the needs of a changing economy.
Tracey Wright, a resident of Los Angeles, used one such program to transform her life. After finding herself homeless and without a job, Tracey was determined to create her own pathway out of poverty.
“She was there for me when I needed her,” Wright said of Perez. “I would bug her about everything. If there was an opportunity to take another class or meet another employer, I would always ask.”
Perez was not the only person Wright counted on to help navigate the labyrinth of school and job searching. “It was a very welcoming environment,” Wright said of the Southeast Los Angeles-Crenshaw WorkSource Center, where she first heard about the clean energy training program offered by Los Angeles Valley College.
When she eventually enrolled in the Weatherization and Energy Efficiency education program offered by the college, Wright intended to stay for about a week. “My one week experiment stretched into two months, and then three,” she explained. “I completed the course in May, and received my certification in construction and welding right after.”
When I asked Wright where she would be now if it weren’t for the green energy program and the community at the WorkSource Center, she said, “There’s no telling.”
Today, Wright is successfully employed with Morrow Meadows, an alternative energy corporation. As a female electrician, she is keenly aware of the ongoing struggle that women face in the workplace. But these barriers have not kept her from achieving her dream. “I love wires, and understanding the way everything connects. Electricity fascinates me,” she said. The company’s most recent project, a multiple-story building at the Galleria shopping center, just received LEED Gold Certification, the highest standard for green building efficiency. “We intended to achieve Platinum certification,” Wright stated. But when the LEED evaluator declared the structure a Gold building, “All of us were so surprised,” she explained. “It was like, yeah, I did that.”
According to Wright, the expansion of the green building industry is vital to the development of the local economy. “Green technology might cost a lot up front,” she stated, “but think about what it would cost 10 years down the line had you not installed those technologies.” Wright spoke specifically about photovoltaic power, which recycles energy by storing power generated throughout the day at night, and insulated windows, which she said are crucial to cutting energy costs because they help maintain the temperature of buildings, keeping them cool in summer and warm in winter.
“It’s a win-win,” Wright said of the growing emphasis on the green jobs sector. And according to a report released by the Brookings Institute entitled “Sizing the Clean Economy,” she couldn’t be more correct.
The clean economy, the report states, employs 2.7 million workers, more than fossil fuel manufacturing and the bioscience sector. Since 2003, the report concludes, green economy establishments have added half a million jobs since 2003, expanding at an annual rate of 3.4 percent.
Wright hopes that more people seek out training programs like hers. “If I could do it all again,” she said, “I would.”
An earlier version of this story appeared on the City of Los Angeles Workforce Investment Board website.