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Austin’s Low-Income Youth to Benefit from New Green Jobs Training & Employment Program

A joint effort among Austin’s carpenters union, American Youthworks, and local employers has earned the group a $50,000 grant to enact a proposal to train and employ dozens of Austin’s at-risk youth for careers in the green energy construction industry. The group’s proposal took first place in Austin’s Equitable Green Jobs Grant program.

The City of Austin launched the program to promote climate justice and equitable access to green jobs. The grant enables organizations to close the gap for communities of color on workforce development approaches, specifically for the green jobs sector, while also stimulating partnerships between trusted community-based organizations, potential green job employers, and training/education institutions.

“As a construction trade organization, we recognize the importance of being on the cutting edge of green building and renewable energy,” said Jason Engels, executive secretary-treasurer of the Central South Carpenters Regional Council. “There is a bright future and direct path to the middle class through green, union jobs, and we embrace the critical role we play in training a future workforce that will pioneer a green economy in Austin. We want to ensure that no one is left behind as we help Austin transition towards cleaner energy.” 

CSCRC’s training arm, the Texas Carpenters and Millwrights Training Trust Fund, and its longtime project partner, the American Youthworks YouthBuild Program, are leading the way in this effort. American Youthworks is a community-based organization with a successful history of serving opportunity youth in Austin.

“We are enthusiastic about the potential to provide young people with training in solar installation as a catalyst to broader exposure in the trades, and the promise of placement in the green building and construction industry” said Parc Smith, CEO of American YouthWorks.

Lighthouse Solar is another collaborator in the project. “As a solar installation employer in the city of Austin and surrounding region, we are enthusiastic about this grant opportunity and seeing young people trained in the solar installation industry” said Stan Pipkin, vice president of Lighthouse Solar.

The Green construction industry is booming in Austin. According to the Solar Energy Industry Association, the outlook for solar power use is strong and growing. Solar energy installers are consistently in need of manpower to build solar farms. Pipkin said the need for solar industry workers is pressing because of the general labor shortage and acute labor deficiencies for solar technicians and solar professionals. Pipkin said Lighthouse Solar will expedite the application process and hire eligible graduates of this new training program into available positions.

“While our federal and state governments spend their time denying the existence of climate change, Austin— instead— is springing into action. I’m proud that labor unions, responsible employers, and the City are coming together to bring an example of the Green New Deal to Austin,” said Council Member Greg Casar, whose low-income District 4 is being targeted for recruitment for solar installer jobs. 

The new grant program is a joint project from the City of Austin’s Innovation Office, Equity Office, Sustainability Office, and Economic Development Department.

How the Program Works

The project will provide 36 young people, ages 18-24, the opportunity to receive training and certifications to become professionals in the renewable energy sector.  Recruitment will focus on young men and women of color presently residing in low-income Austin neighborhoods, District 4, and especially those within the zip codes of 78744, 78441 and 78745.

Training will focus on the solar industry and in solar panel installation, but the diverse training program will prepare the students to pursue other career options in the green jobs sector.

The program will include the following trainings: Multi-Craft Core Curriculum Pre-Apprenticeship (MC3) construction fundamentals, OSHA 10 Safety Training, Leadership skills training, First Aid/CPR and an optional Green Professional Building Skills Training (G-Pro) certification. Program participants will become qualified to attain nationally recognized certifications and successful completion will result in placement in the green building and construction industry.

The length of time required to teach solar installation is brief. A young person will receive fundamental instruction through the First Aid/CPR, the OSHA 10 and the MC3 construction training before being introduced to the solar installation.  The groundwork that will serve them in any part of the construction industry will serve to be an immediate preparation for the specifics of solar.

Why This Project Matters

Austin’s most vulnerable and underserved communities are disproportionately affected by climate change hazards due to historic underinvestment, limited resources, growth pressures, health inequities, and low paying jobs. Yet opportunities can be made out of constraints.

Brookings Institution researchers found that mean hourly wages in green energy sector jobs are anywhere from 8 to 19 percent higher than the national average wage. For entry-level jobs in this same sector, they find a $5 to $10 per hour pay premium compared to other entry-level jobs.

The grants will focus on youth and adults of color in areas of Austin where 20% or more of the population makes 200% or less of the federal poverty level, which indicates a heightened vulnerability to displacement.

This program aims to increase household financial resilience and community-wide climate resilience and take another step towards racial equity – the condition when race no longer predicts a person’s quality of life outcomes in our community.

Austin is facing critical shortages for workers in the skilled trades, creating an increased demand for construction skills training. WFS Capital Area projects 13,840 job openings in the Skilled Trades in the next 5 years and a 38% increase in construction-related Targeted Occupations in Central Texas by 2024. These targeted occupations include Electricians, Plumbers, Carpenters and Sheet Metal Workers. Green Building is a key component of all of these career paths.

Engaging youth in green building and the renewable energy industry will help them to understand that there is a much bigger picture to building a green economy.  Their mastery in solar installation will be a vital and significant component of bringing positive change to our environment.  This is an important and positive step in encouraging our next generation to give back and protect our resources.

Many young people have a narrow understanding of both construction and green building. This training will provide entrance and exposure to a huge industry that stays on the cutting edge of building with a goal building sustainably in a way that respects the environment and our use of resources. While not all of the participants will necessarily enter the solar industry, they will be exposed to numerous other opportunities that can they can pursue in various building trades. 

Careers in the green industry have a salary higher than those in traditional construction careers.  A short training period and placement in a job position with a strong living wage will be immediately gratifying to these individuals.

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