Green-job training put on hold after program produces few jobs

Government-funded training for so-called green jobs has come to a near standstill in Snohomish County, having produced lackluster results.

Over the past few years, about 500 residents in the county attended short-term training programs with the hope of landing one of 25,000 or more green jobs expected to be needed in the state by 2020.

So far, 95 of those 500 students have found jobs.

WorkForce Development Council of Snohomish County, which oversees training under the federal Workforce Investment Act of 1998, recently put a hold on sending more people through the training program, which had a job placement rate of about 20 percent.

That’s still a higher placement rate for green-job training programs than the national rate, which is about 10 percent, according to a recent U.S. Department of Labor audit.

Nationwide, about $500 million in Recovery Act funds were allocated to train nearly 125,000 people for green careers. Nearly a year and a half later, the audit found, only 52,762 people had been trained and 8,035 had found jobs.

However, the audit noted that the low job-placement rate could be attributed in part to a six-month lag between the time an individual is placed in a job and when that employment is reported.

Still, the program’s underwhelming success rate, both nationally and locally, has people worried.

Locally, Snohomish County received more than $2 million for green-jobs training. The WorkForce Development Council coordinated primarily with Edmonds and Cascadia community colleges to provide training, which included certificates in energy auditing, energy accounting and commercial-lighting auditing.

In a recent informal meeting with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on workforce training, Sue Ambler, president of WorkForce Development Council Snohomish County, told Murray that she had stopped sending people through the programs.

WorkForce has asked training partners to revamp the program, said Heather Villars, director of communications for the workforce council.

Early participants in the program “were not completing or finding employment at a rate that was acceptable” to the council, she said.

The modest success rate of green training programs didn’t come as a surprise to administrators at Everett Community College.

In late 2010, the college conducted its own study of green jobs and training, by determining possible programs and policy going forward. The college’s findings suggested “that a general green education and, specifically, such an education offered through a community college certificate program, lacks vocational applicability in the present job market.”

The college isn’t discounting the need for a focus on energy conservation or sustainability. Rather, Everett Community College is trying to incorporate green sensibilities across the curriculum, said Sandra Fowler-Hill, vice president of Instruction and Student Services for the college. Fowler-Hill likened the college’s approach to teaching basic computer programs.

“We never train anyone to be a Word or Excel person. We integrate it into everything we do,” she said. “We’re trying to integrate green into everything we do.”

The college’s 2010 report recommended sticking with that strategy, especially for short-term certificate programs, unless a local employer or industry group with a sustained job requirement asked for that type of training. For instance, using “green” grants, the college trained fewer than 50 students in specialized welding techniques used in wind turbine manufacturing and in containment of nuclear vessels in the cleanup at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Eastern Washington.

Everett Community College conducted the study after its first venture into green training — a sustainable business operations management certificate — failed.

After surveying public and private employers, the college found general confusion over the term “green jobs.” More importantly, it found that the employers who were hiring in green industries wanted employees with more education than a community college could provide, or they didn’t require such education.

Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454, mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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