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'Green-Collar Jobs': Two Rell Directives Would Create Environmentally Oriented Projects


March 02, 2009

The state may be losing tens of thousands of jobs, but Gov. M. Jodi Rell is hoping to replace at least some of them, eventually, through a new initiative to train workers for "green collar" careers.

Rell has ordered state agencies to start training workers for jobs that will protect the environment and natural resources and improve the state's economy.

The challenges are daunting. No one can say exactly what constitutes a "green" job, and within the broad range of possibilities, no one can predict which types of jobs the state's economy will need.

The governor's 15-point directive, issued Feb. 3, covers a variety of steps, from modernizing job training at the state's community colleges and technical high schools to installing "green" toilets at state parks.

She also directed that up to 25 percent of the almost $3 billion the state is expected to receive from the federal economic stimulus package be spent on "green" projects that are ready to proceed immediately, so-called shovel-ready proposals.

Rell's green-collar initiative requires the private sector to be included along with state agencies. The Connecticut Employment and Training Commission, a public-private partnership, for example, is charged with creating a Green Jobs Council made up of government, business and industry that will develop job opportunities and establish training programs.

The collaboration makes sense, said Judith Resnick, director of workforce development and training at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, an organization representing private industry.

"We are encouraged by the fact that business is named," she said. "Labor, education, business, industry. Here are all the potential stakeholders."

While Rell's green-collar initiative is ambitious, there is still much work to be done on specific programs, officials said.

"This is all uncharted territory," said Joan McDonald, commissioner of Economic and Community Development. "It's a little too premature to have anything concrete."

One problem is simply defining what constitutes a "green collar" job.

Nicholas Jolly, a state Department of Labor economist, wrestled with the problem in the December edition of the department's Economic Digest.

"Green is ubiquitous, encompassing many areas of the economy," he wrote. "Some occupations are 'green' one day and may be only partially green the next."

There is no standard method of classifying an electrician who installs a solar panel one day, then wires a home for electric heat the next, or a car manufacturer that produces gasoline-fueled cars as well as cars powered by hydrogen, electricity or biofuels, he wrote.

He said the state will need not only highly trained specialists with advanced degrees, but many more workers who can supplement their existing skills as carpenter, car mechanic or HVAC technician with new "green" skills that can be learned in a short time.

Of the approximately 27,000 "green jobs" in the state in 2006, he said, the greatest number were in waste management and remediation, while the highest-paying jobs were in hydroelectric power generation.

Rell's directive has pushed agencies to get to work promptly. The state community college system, for example, learned in January that the U.S. Department of Labor had awarded it a $2 million grant to create programs for jobs in alternative and renewable energy.

The colleges are now rushing to train professors and have programs in place by the 2010 spring semester that will teach students to repair hybrid cars, work in water treatment plants, install solar energy equipment and evaluate building efficiency.

Under the grant, eight yearlong certificate programs will train 320 students between 2010 and 2012, said Shelly Jewell, project director for the grant. The jobs are expected to pay an average of $38,000 a year, Jewell said, and the programs are designed so students can go on and complete an associate's degree or a bachelor's program in the same field.

In response to a request from Rell, towns and nonprofit groups have submitted 230 requests asking for a share of the federal stimulus money. About $110 million already has been designated for weatherization and state energy programs, said Matt Fritz, special assistant to the governor. Most of the requests are for typical government projects: road repaving, police and fire stations, town hall renovation.

A minority involve "green" projects. They include solar panels for New Britain schools, the Mystic Seaport Museum and Quinnipiac University, removing lead-based paint in Seymour public housing and creating fuel pellets from waste products at the Stamford Water Pollution Control Authority.

At the state technical schools, some teachers are already preparing students for green jobs. At Grasso Southeastern Technical High School in Groton, for example, Alex Pesarik's students have installed an electricity-producing wind turbine and plan to install a photovoltaic panel to light the school's greenhouse. Pesarik, head of the school's bio-environmental technology department, applied last year for the grants that paid for the project.

"We're trying to tweak our curriculum to prepare students for jobs down the green avenue," he said. He said his students were already familiar with electricity and didn't need a lot of extra training. "All it is, is a blue collar job with a green collar purpose. You are still doing wiring."

At the state Department of Education, charged by the governor with creating a Green Collar Corps to teach students ways to lower their environmental impact, planning is already underway.

"Our curriculum was really dated. A lot of things kids were doing were things that just weren't needed," said spokesman Tom Murphy. "We're trying to install systemwide changes to the curriculum. We can't do it overnight, but we have started."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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