New York Needs a Coordinated Green Jobs Approach
We begin this year facing a perfect storm of problems: an economy that has yet to recover from a state of crisis, rising unemployment, a workforce whose skills are becoming obsolete, dependence on an unstable supply of imported oil and increasing need to address climate change threats.
Upstate New York, like the nation, faces a tidal wave of economic and environmental challenges that will only be solved with the re-invention of our workforce and a creative blending of core environmental and economic principles. In short, we need “green jobs.” I define this term as family-supporting, career-track employment in the fields of clean energy, energy conservation, clean production and environmental restoration. In practice, most green jobs are retooled blue-collar jobs with traditional, but upgraded, skill sets.
Green jobs have become a strong focus at the federal and state levels. The Obama administration has made millions in stimulus funds available for green jobs training. I co-sponsored the recently enacted Green Jobs/Green NY Act that will fund retrofits for one million residential units in New York over five years to reduce building energy use, lower housing costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This law will create the demand for green jobs throughout the state, and it provides a funding source via Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative funds.
The Green Jobs/Green New York Act is a good start. What is missing is a statewide policy for green job education and training. That is why I have sponsored the Green Workforce Training and Education Bill (S5640/A8377) along with my colleague George Latimer in the Assembly. This bill creates a Green Jobs subcommittee within the NY State Workforce Investment Board. The subcommittee with be charged with four primary tasks:
(1) Analyze labor market and industry data to identify green job creation opportunities;
(2) Make targeted recommendations for education and job training programs, with a focus on at-risk youth, low-income communities, communities of color, and unemployed workers in transition industries;
(3) Assist municipalities in creating local green jobs corps to spur green job training and education across the state; and
(4) Explore funding mechanisms for green job education and job training through a mix of public and private resources, including federal stimulus dollars.
The Green Jobs-Green New York Act creates the demand for green jobs in the area of residential retrofits. The Green Workforce bill ensures that there is adequate education and job training to meet this demand. But our bill also looks beyond the 5 year retrofit program by adopting a broad definition of green jobs and developing sufficient education and job training for both existing and emerging green businesses and industries.
Simply put, the Green Workforce bill will help close the gap in workforce education and training for green jobs statewide, and will ensure that New Yorkers are put back to work sooner rather than later.
Antoine M. Thompson is the 60th District New York State Senator and chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee. Co-author Cullen Howe is the Policy Director of Lawyers for Green Jobs, the organization which has spearheaded the drive for a Green Jobs subcommittee within the State Workforce Investment Board.