‘Green-collar’ jobs benefits workers

A study by a SF State professor shows how blue-collar jobs in green business provide significant job opportunities for the hard-to-employ.

As the Bay Area and California continue to lead the nation in efforts to reduce emissions, build green and establish renewable energy sources, the green business market is taking off.

A new study by urban studies professor Raquel Pinderhughes suggests that as green business is booming, so is the job market for people facing barriers to employment. Her study, the first and only of its kind, found that jobs in the green sector not only contribute to a greener America, they also provide a significant pathway out of poverty.

Dubbed “green-collar” jobs, the occupations analyzed by Pinderhughes are defined as blue-collar jobs that directly improve environmental quality. The occupations analyzed range from those in recycling or waste diversion to installation of solar panels.

“The reason we’re talking about environmental jobs today is because we see growth,” Pinderhughes said. “But if we don’t structurally attach that growth to equity issues, that market only benefits the privileged population.”

Pinderhughes’ findings emphasized that while the Bay Area is a prosperous region, poverty and unemployment are still significant problems. There are hundreds of small and mid-size for-profit firms, public agencies and nonprofit organizations in the environmental sector, but 86 percent of those firms only provide white-collar jobs.

The study, conducted during 2006-07 and commissioned by the City of Berkeley’s Office of Energy and Sustainable Development, is an instrumental part of implementing the Green Job Corps Program, a collaborative job placement program adopted by the City of Oakland that is expected to officially start this summer. The study includes a model for an effective green-collar job training and placement program that meets the needs identified in the report.

Pinderhughes interviewed more than 20 Berkeley-based green business owners and managers over 2006 to 2007. She found that 86 percent of businesses surveyed hire workers with no previous direct experience, and 94 percent provide on-the-job training for their entry-level employees. She also found that 86 percent of the businesses experienced “significant growth.”

“This study was the first time people have really looked at this viable sector of jobs,” said Beck Cowles of the Ecology Center, which was part of the study. “It showed that we have a high potential for matching up people to ways out of poverty.”

The target population of the program is 18- to 35-year-old persons with barriers to employment, such as lack of a high school diploma or a significant amount of time spent out of the labor market, those who have been incarcerated or have limited labor skills and experience.

“I came up with the ‘green-collar’ concept looking at the labor market,” said Pinderhughes. “Manual labor jobs are ideal for entry level, but when I came up with the concept, I didn’t know if it was worth fighting for. But I learned that green-collar jobs are really good jobs. They are inherently meaningful.”

“The environmental justice movement 25 years ago really set the stage for the alliance of environmental and equity issues,” she said. “It was the marriage of the two that I was looking for.”

The average hourly wage for green-collar jobs in Berkeley is $15.80 per hour plus benefits. This wage is more than $4 higher than Berkeley’s current minimum “living wage,” which is the highest in the nation at $11.39 per hour, according to the City of Berkeley’s finance web site.

The study said all of the Bay Area’s green-collar jobs sectors are expected to grow over the next decade. As they expand there will be increases in green-collar work force opportunities in areas such as recycling, alternative energy, bicycle transit and water efficiency.

Pinderhughes identified several factors contributing to the growth of green businesses and green-collar jobs in the Bay Area. Primarily, the state and local policies to improve urban environmental quality and government actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, along with the fact that venture capital investment in green technologies is increasing.

Growth in the recycling industry is illustrative of this trend, Pinderhughes said. As cities and states pass policies to reduce waste going to landfills, green-collar jobs are increasing “exponentially.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 50.8 million tons of materials were recycled or composted in 1999, a 50 percent increase from the previous decade. Throughout the nation, over 56,000 recycling facilities are creating more than 1.1 million jobs.

The city of San Francisco’s own commitment to reach “zero waste” by 2020 is an example of how jobs can be created, Pinderhughes said.

“You start with a city policy, which is started by white-collar environmental workers, but its actual physical implementation like installing the proper waste facilities that will be carried out by green-collar workers,” she said.

“[Green-collar jobs] are different than a lot of dead-end, entry-level jobs which typically have little or no mobility and don’t give workers that sense of community service.”

In addition to identifying a niche and a need for green-collar jobs, Pinderhughes also interviewed low-income people and found there was a high level of interest in green-collar jobs.

“People like the idea of improving the environment, and they like the idea of doing that on a local level.”

Although the green collar job market is currently “posed for dramatic growth,” Pinderhughes emphasized the need for collaboration with city agencies to meet the needs of job-seekers and employers.

“It’s good right now, but whether or not there will be tons of jobs for tons of people in the next four or five years is hard to say,” said Pinderhughes. “We need to make sure we have the money allocated for the programs and the commitment of employers and local governments.”

The program is expected to officially get under way this summer. Proposals from multiple green businesses will be submitted and analyzed by Oakland’s Green Business Council and one business will be chosen to launch the program. The program will be facilitated by, the Oakland Apollo Alliance and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

Ian Kim, coordinator of the Alliance and the Ella Baker Center, wrote in a concept paper for the program that it will address two critical crises, of the environmental and of poverty, with one solution.

“The Oakland Green Job Corps will provide world class job training to prepare young adults in Oakland for green-collar careers,” Kim stated. “It will have a special focus on providing green pathways out of poverty.”
“California, and especially the Bay Area, is obviously leading the way in becoming more green, but the whole concept is really taking off,” said Pinderhughes. “I get calls from cities all over the country wanting to learn more about how to start programs of their own.”

How the program will work
Last year, the Oakland City Council earmarked $250,000 in seed funding for the Oakland Green Job Corps Program. The funds came from the Williams and Reliant Energy Settlement, which was awarded to several California cities after energy companies were found guilty of illegal price-gauging in 2007.

Oakland City Council
Requests proposals from green businesses to
obtain additional funding for the program.

Green Job Corps Program
A job training and paid internship program to
prepare people with barriers to employment for the green collar careers

Apollo Alliance/Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
A group of environmentalists, labor unions,
community groups and green businesses that will facilitate the program.

Green Business Council
To be convened when a business is selected to carry out the model, made up of City officials, agencies, environmental groups.







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