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Green Jobs Program Funders Aren’t Measuring the Right Kind of Success

Bomee Jung's picture
Principal Topsight Advisors LLC

For more than 17 years, Bomee Jung has contributed to New York City’s climate leadership through policy and programmatic innovations.After joining the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) as...

  • Member since 2021
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  • Jan 26, 2021
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Originally published here. 

To get green-collar jobs right, policy makers and funders need to start thinking of them as investments in careers rather than skills-building. Instead of measuring success by how many people graduate from training programs, we should measure how many stay and thrive in the clean energy field long-term. What’s at stake is a truly diverse clean energy workforce; failure to retain workers means less diversity in management and executive ranks, which erodes performance, discourages new entrants, and results in unequal earnings.

As we contemplate post-Covid-19 economic stimulus packages, green jobs programs modeled after those included in the 2009 ARRA stimulus package are among the many employment-boosting ideas on the table. A 2020 study found that ARRA green investments created more jobs in areas with “pre-existing green skills,” and ARRA was more effective in creating jobs in the long-term than in the short-term. Although half of the $500 million in ARRA green jobs funds was dedicated to programs that trained disadvantaged populations, there seems to be a dearth of analysis showing whether and how those training resources linked trainees with permanent jobs. According to a 2019 Brookings Institution report, the clean energy workforce is “older, dominated by male workers, and lacks racial diversity when compared to all occupations nationally.” A new green stimulus that replicates the job outcomes of ARRA seems unlikely to diversify the growing clean energy workforce.

Green jobs programs typically focus on just the first rung or two of the career ladder: job readiness, basic certifications like OSHA-30, and hands-on vocational training (e.g. solar installation, energy audits, benchmarking, etc.). Success measures for even the best green jobs programs focus on the short-term: whether participants completed the training program, attained an educational milestone like high-school graduation or GED, and (sometimes) whether they were able to complete a traineeship or be hired into a first job. Many workforce program providers informally remain in contact with their graduates, but what happens five, 10, or 15 years after completion is information lost to the world. This makes it likely that we’re missing out on valuable data about what works and what doesn’t. Policy makers in particular simply don’t have a feedback loop in place to understand whether green jobs programs truly grow and diversify the clean energy workforce.

Funders should enable organizations to embrace individual-focused, career-development case management, in which the engagement with the green professional continues as long as she wants to continue, not only through the first job, but right up to the master electrician’s license, C-suite, or boardroom. Benefits of such an approach for the individual might include “just-in-time” support at key points to support career growth. For green jobs program funders and policy makers, the primary benefit would be identifying what works, so that workforce resources are targeted to interventions that succeed.

Such approaches should include:

  1. Consistent and uninterrupted focus on each participating worker. The programs, systems, assessments, supports, etc. should be built on the premise that each participant is a long-term beneficiary; personal career progress and long-term tenure as an active clean energy professional is what matters.
  2. To provide help to each individual at critical junctures, a large number of varied institutions and support systems should be available to participants, including traditional workforce programs, secondary and higher-education schools, and a broad variety of clean energy employers.
  3. Continuity and non-duplication of case information. All information relevant to serving the beneficiary should be wholly available to the beneficiary. The participating worker should be able to share any and all of their case with institutions and support systems at their discretion.
  4. Wage supports. A commitment to retaining workers in the clean energy industries may entail providing occasional wage supports, not only during initial traineeships, but also at times when an educational boost is needed to attain the next career rung. Wage support should be widely available whenever it’s needed.
  5. Ensuring that careers don’t stall for preventable causes. Everyone needs long-term relationships with mentors and peers to help regroup and refocus when careers seem to plateau or fall into a lull. Access to robust and supportive professional networks raises a worker’s awareness of her market value and funnels information about job opportunities to keep careers moving forward.
  6. Long-term tracking of the progress of participating workers for program and policy evaluation purposes.

At first glance, the primary barrier to a career-long case management approach would seem to be staff to follow the careers of many more participants, and presumably a major increase in paperwork by all involved. The back-office processes that support existing workforce programs tend to be labor-intensive and paper-based. Programs often receive financial supports from more than one source, introducing duplication and complexity. But existing technology and smart program design can solve these problems. Benefits to both workers and the industry justify the efforts, however difficult.

This story benefitted from peer review by Rory ChristianTonya GayleDan Hafetz, and Lisbeth Shepherd, and was edited by Tom Sahagian. Thank you!

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Photo by Green City Force

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 26, 2021

A great point that the way you measure success is just as critical as the actual steps taken-- you don't want to incentivize the wrong things, have people tilting towards what will be defined as success by a given metric rather than capture the spirit of the intent, etc. Thanks for sharing, Bomee!

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