Workers ready for green collar jobs

(Reposted from Workday Minnesota) ST. PAUL - With both the state and federal governments putting new emphasis on “green” economic development, Ray Zeran is one of many workers ready to fill the ranks of a new “green collar” workforce.

Zern recently completed training on solar panel installation at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ new facility in St. Michael. But the Coon Rapids electrician has yet to find work and, like thousands of other construction workers, is currently unemployed.

So he joined 150 other IBEW members at the union’s Day on the Hill to urge lawmakers to take action to create the new green economy. “I’m ready to go to work,” Zeran said.

Federal aid, state plans Last week, a Green Jobs Task Force chaired by two state legislators released its report of recommendations. At the same time, Minnesota learned it will receive more than $9 billion in tax cuts and new federal aid through the $787 billion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama.

The stimulus package includes $170 million to weatherize low-income housing, $67 million to promote renewable power sources and energy efficiency, an estimated $73 million for sewage treatment projects and $35 million for clean drinking water.

These and other projects meet the definition of “green jobs,” according to the state task force. “Green jobs are the employment and entrepreneurial opportunities that are part of the green economy . . . including the four industry sectors of green products, renewable energy, green services and environmental conservation. Minnesota’s green jobs policies, strategies and investments need to lead to high quality jobs with good wages and benefits, meeting current wage and labor laws.”

During the legislative session, lawmakers will consider measures to spend the money appropriated to Minnesota through the stimulus bill and to implement the recommendations of the task force.

And that could mean jobs for people like Zeran – as many as 70,000 new or retained jobs, according to state Senator Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul.

Anderson, who co-chaired the Green Jobs Task Force, presented the group’s finding to a Senate committee Wednesday as Zeran and other IBEW members looked on. She said the 70,000 figure is conservative and was calculated before the stimulus package was proposed – so it does not include jobs that would be created through the stimulus funds.

“If we implement the action steps we are proposing, we know the number can grow beyond that,” Anderson said.

Linking policy and job growth Under the leadership of Anderson and other lawmakers, Minnesota leads the nation in passing strong environmental and energy policies – such as the requirement that one-quarter of Minnesota’s electricity come from renewables by 2025.

But the state has lagged others, including neighboring Wisconsin, Iowa and North and South Dakota, in linking energy policy to job creation, Anderson said.

“We felt we weren’t doing enough to capture the economic growth . . . and align these strategies . . .to maximize job creation,” she told the Senate committee.

The Task Force recommends numerous steps to build a green economy – from providing incentives to industry to supporting more research and development. It recommends the creation of one agency, a “Green Enterprise Authority,” to coordinate marketing and business assistance; streamline grants, loans and permitting processes; and coordinate workforce training opportunities.

Task force members included representatives from organized labor. On Thursday, the task force’s subcommittee on Workforce Education and Training completed its recommendations. They focus on training workers for the green economy by building on the current system and not duplicating services offered through existing programs, such as union apprenticeships. Union representatives on the subcommittee noted that facilities such as the IBEW training center in St. Michael – which cost $250,000 – were built entirely with private dollars.

Anderson said she hoped lawmakers will move quickly to implement the opportunities identified in the task force report.

“We are going to try to introduce as many of these (recommendations) as we can in legislation” this session, she said.

New possibilities Unions are excited about the possibilities presented by green development, said Bill Heaney, IBEW legislative director. For example, hundreds of energy auditors will be needed – jobs that could be filled by current or new IBEW members.

Heaney said his union has members who have been sitting “on the bench” for as long as 22 months. “We’ve got people unemployed, trained and ready to work,” he said.

Zeran, a member of IBEW Local 292, said many of his friends and neighbors know about the promise of wind power – but they assume that solar power is out of the question in a state like Minnesota.

“I tell them this is a great place to do solar,” he said. “We have just as many sunlight hours on average as northern California.” And Minnesota gets less sun – on average – than most of Germany, where solar power is huge, he said.

For more information Learn more about the recommendations in the Green Jobs Task Force report at the website, www.mngreenjobs.com