Worcester Youth Center Focuses On Green Jobs

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
January 2014

For a first meeting, it was a good sign.

A group of young people gathered around a conference table at the Worcester Youth Center, listening as staff member Jeanette Roach offered them a chance to work in green jobs and learn in a college classroom.

“There’s huge growth in the green sector jobs, and it encompasses a lot,” Ms. Roach told the group. “Some people might picture installing solar panels. There’s that. But there’s a wide variety of opportunities.”

The youth center, in collaboration with Quinsigamond Community College and the Central Mass Workforce Investment Board, is helping young adults learn basic job skills and setting them up for future employment in the green industry, or entry into college.

The program targets unemployed or underemployed 16-to-24-year-olds, which is the roughly the same age ranges served by the Worcester Youth Center.

While officials are still seeking employers to offer internships, they hope to place up to 20 participating students with local companies by next summer after training them in basic office skills at the college.

The program is funded by a $112,000 grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

Tamika Jacques, director of workforce development for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, said the organization focused on Worcester because of the need to develop green industry-related jobs in Central Massachusetts.

Worcester could also use the help. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent in October, meaning about 21,600 people were out of work.

But the unemployment rate among Worcester’s youngest workers is far worse. According to the U.S. Census’ 2012 American Community Survey, nearly 44 percent of the city’s 16-to-24-year-olds didn’t have a job.

Worcester’s high school graduation rate also lags the state by 12 percent. Just 72.3 percent of the city’s young people graduated after four years of high school. And, Worcester’s high school graduates are less likely than their peers elsewhere in the state to attend a four-year college.

“We feel that the clean energy industry is an industry that you can sustain,” Ms. Roach said. “If you are trained properly and you have the educational degree, you can sustain a good wage, you can get that economic self-sufficiency.”

The program stresses additional education, she said, so young people can advance their careers or start a business of their own.

Green jobs can include installers of photovoltaic solar panels, the driver of an energy-efficient bus, an accountant for a clean energy firm, or an a HVAC technician who is retrained to handle modern environmental systems.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center reported a total of 79,994 green jobs this year in the state, and estimated the state will have nearly 88,900 green jobs in 2014.

The wide range of potential careers within the green industry makes it tricky to develop a specific green jobs curriculum, said Kathie Manning, dean of Quinsigamond Community College’s training and education center.

“One of the tough things about a program like this is that the green energy field is still an emerging field, and we’re still defining the jobs,” she said. “We’re finding that a lot of the jobs in clean energy are in existing jobs already.”

The college component will offer basic work training — such as using computer software like Microsoft Office — and familiarity with U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Association regulations. There will also be an opportunity to take a course at QCC that can be used as credit for a college degree, she said.

The program will help students who have not completed high school to gain an equivalency diploma.

“It’s very important for them to make the connection between the classroom learning and applying it in the workplace,” said Ms. Manning.

After her presentation, Ms. Roach said the youth center tries to encourage young people to think about their futures. Some young people just need that first professional experience to get them on their way, she said.

“Some come in and they’re ready,” she said. “They just need someone to help them get that first job so they can put it on their resume.”

Alex Steele, 18, said she would be interested in working in public relations to represent a company in the green industry.

“I’ve always been interested in the environment. I’ve always been passionate about seeking out any kind of opportunity that involves green technology,” Ms. Steele said.

“To me, it’s really important that this youth center … is giving (us) an opportunity to learn about a whole new field of careers that (we) may not have thought of. I’m never going to be good enough to get a degree, or get a high-paying job,” she said.

James Toohil, 19, said he is interested in a green industry career because he is concerned about the environment. Mr. Toohil dropped out of high school in his junior year, but has since earned his diploma. Now he is contemplating a future earning a college degree.

“I don’t know what I really want to do, so I just want to explore. … I’ll probably go back to Quinsigamond and try to figure out what I want to do,” he said.
By John Hilliard

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