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Growing Green Collar Jobs in NYC

By: Joanne Derwin

July 02, 2008

This is a critical moment for advancing a green collar jobs vision. Over the past year, New York City has taken bold steps to address pressing environmental problems. Long strides have been made toward confronting the threat of global warming, planning for future energy use, and improving our infrastructure to accommodate new residents. At the same time, there is growing recognition that greening New York City can be an engine for economic growth, community reinvestment, and job creation.

New York City's large-scale environmental initiatives, such as plaNYC 2030, have the potential to create and upgrade thousands of jobs — in building retrofits, energy efficient building maintenance, energy management, clean energy, urban forestry, storm water management, recycling, and brownfield remediation.

A growing green economy can help the city meet formidable economic challenges. These include persistent joblessness in many communities — especially for black and Latino youth, the loss of family-supporting jobs, and the growth of low-wage jobs without opportunities for skill development and promotion. Because green jobs often involve working on urban infrastructure and the built environment, they cannot be easily outsourced; and many are based in neighborhoods experiencing the highest levels of joblessness.

If the full promise of a green economy is to be realized, green jobs need to be more than ones that maintain or improve the environment. These jobs have to provide family-supporting wages, benefits, and career pathways.

It remains an open question, however, whether the City's environmental policies will lead to quality jobs. For that reason, Urban Agenda has launched a nine month process to create a coordinated, citywide workforce development plan to prepare New Yorkers for green collar jobs. The kick-off meeting was held on June 24 when nearly 150 participants from many sectors met to identify critical questions and share information and strategies on how to support green collar job creation.

The plan is being created through a broad based effort that includes input from labor unions, community groups, workforce development practitioners, business, environmental advocates and policy makers. Its ultimate success will be measured in the creation of thousands of green collar jobs.

A citywide green collar workforce development plan must address both retraining incumbent workers in state-of-the-art green skills and preparing New Yorkers who face barriers to employment (such as poor education, limited job experience, a prison record, or lack of childcare). A comprehensive plan would:

  • Connect underemployed New Yorkers — including youth, who are unconnected to education or employment, and the formerly incarcerated with green collar careers

    The plan will need to create entry points into green career tracks for workers who have been shut out of the traditional economy. This might include piloting a green collar job corps to provide job training, paid work experience, and placement in green collar sectors with basic entry requirements.

  • Support existing programs

    The plan should leverage New York City's strong workforce development system by expanding training in green skills, materials, and systems and bringing these programs to scale. This would enhance the fundability and sustainability of a green collar workforce development plan.

  • Build career pathways

    The plan would apply a model used by some already existing programs that explicitly connects pre-employment service providers, community and non-profit training providers, labor apprenticeship programs, and two-year and four-year college programs. Such an approach connects job training programs to green career pathways.

Creating a plan to meet the needs of workers and employers alike will require a commitment from a broad base of concerned stakeholders. A citywide strategy that builds from existing programs, confronts challenges in the workforce development system, and creates green careers would provide the scale and coordination necessary to accomplish this complex effort. With the meeting on June 24, work has now begun on developing a strategy to help lift New Yorkers out of poverty, preserve a middle class and ensure the City's global competitiveness.

Joanne Derwin is the Executive Director of Urban Agenda, an action research and coalition building organization working for social, economic and environmental justice. Urban Agenda convenes the NYC Apollo Alliance where Joanne serves on the Steering Committee.

Edit September 27, 2019: Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN) formed in 2011 through the merger of New York Jobs with Justice and Urban Agenda.

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