Green Jobs Roundtable

Speakers at the DC Workforce Development and Green Jobs Roundtable included, from left, Vinicio Linares, Johnnie Philson, Ted Scott, Brian Rodgers and Seth Charde. (Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay)

The Chesapeake Bay region has a unique challenge during the unprecedented times we are currently facing. The District of Columbia and six Bay states are working toward the completion of their share of the Bay cleanup goals, and there is still much work to be done before the 2025 deadline.

To continue reducing the pollutants entering the Bay, the district and states are implementing stormwater best management practices, among other steps, toward their goals. As the number of BMP installations increases, long-term investments need to follow in the form of maintenance and inspection to ensure that these practices don’t lose their pollution-reduction effectiveness.

At the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, we believe the solutions to environmental issues, like reducing stormwater runoff and reducing unemployment, are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

In October 2019, the Alliance convened more than 50 representatives from the private sector, government and nonprofit organizations to discuss how local partners could better prepare trainees in green workforce programs and better connect them to employment opportunities in the industry. This event was part of the Alliance’s ForumPlus initiative, which hosts educational and networking events throughout the Bay watershed. The DC Workforce Development and Green Jobs Roundtable was created by the Alliance, in partnership with the DC Department of Energy and Environment and the National League of Cities, and was sponsored by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. 

“No other city that I know of has convened a meeting like this,” said Andrew Moore of the National League of Cities at the DC Workforce Development and Green Jobs Roundtable.

Panels hosted during the roundtable focused on green jobs training programs, private sector employers and alumni of local training programs. The collective interest and excitement around this topic was palpable. Interested participants were invited to join a workgroup to continue working toward some of the goals laid out during the initial meeting.

The goals of the workgroup include better defining the green jobs industry in DC by identifying the needs and skills necessary for trainees and new professionals to succeed, and professional growth opportunities. A common theme throughout the discussions at the roundtable and through the workgroup is the need for support. To help ensure the success of local green job training initiatives, both trainees and employers need additional resources and training.

Other projects the workgroup seeks to accomplish include the creation of a trainee-to-job pathway map, a toolkit by and for young industry professionals, and outreach and employer training with local maintenance, landscaping and construction firms to encourage hiring local talent with certifications to install or maintain stormwater management projects. Long-term goals of the group include working toward the standardization of local credentials as well as a 10-year industry job forecast to help guide future decision making.

The Alliance workgroup coordinator, Erin O’Grady, said, “The roundtable initiated great discussion and universal excitement for a more structured and supported green workforce training-to-job pathway in the District. By prioritizing and elevating this topic in our regularly convening workgroup, we hope to amplify the conversation across the city and encourage collaborative, well-informed decision making to ensure a sustainable green workforce.”

The District is building a green workforce to meet its energy, water quality and restoration goals while providing pathways to economic mobility for DC residents. There are more than 1,200 practices in public spaces in the District that have been installed to reduce polluted runoff entering streams and rivers, and they require regular maintenance. Training underemployed and unemployed residents to perform this maintenance helps the District to meet its stormwater management and Bay restoration commitments. Through its Solar for All program, the DOEE is striving to provide the benefits of solar electricity to 100,000 low-income households and reduce their energy bills 50% by 2032.

These workforce programs quickly pivoted to operate virtually during the public health emergency. Given the disparate health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the skills and income that these programs provide and the job opportunities they create for under– and unemployed residents are increasingly important.

DOEE director Tommy Wells spoke to the importance of these efforts. “Training and employing a green workforce are central to the Bowser administration’s goals for the District to be a sustainable and resilient city and to give every resident a fair shot,” he said. “The District’s River Corps, Solar Works DC, Green Fellows and Green Zone Environmental Programs are training under– and unemployed residents to help meet Mayor Bowser’s water quality, habitat restoration and clean energy targets, while also attracting top talent and cultivating the next generation of environmental leaders.”

The proposed Green New Deal legislation introduced in early 2019 is a large-scale example of how the Bay region can further work toward achieving its environmental and economic goals. With intentional investment, planning and support, the future looks bright for a green DC workforce, even in times of uncertainty. 

Laura Todd is the RiverSmart program coordinator at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

The views expressed by columnists are not necessarily those of the Bay Journal.

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