Green Jobs: Learning from the Past for a Better Tomorrow


Earlier this month I attended the Great Lakes Urban Exchange (GLUE) annual conference, which was held in the Larimer neighborhood of Pittsburgh. GLUE is a network of young leaders devoted to creating a healthy, sustainable and equitable future for the Great Lakes region. The theme of this year’s conference was “Green-Lighting Neighborhoods” and one of the issues that surfaced repeatedly was that of green jobs. Green jobs have been getting a bad wrap lately, but there were several organizations on hand whose successes demonstrated a different story.

It’s true that green jobs programs have not been as successful in the past as they could have been. The term “green jobs” is tough to define and its goals have not always been clearly communicated.  And the initial slew of green jobs training programs was often uncoordinated and unaligned with market needs; there weren’t always jobs waiting for graduates of these programs. However, organizations involved with green jobs training are learning from past mistakes and reworking programs to make them more effective.

GTECH (Growth Through Energy + Community Health) is a Pittsburgh-based non-profit social enterprise, whose work lies at the intersection of community development, vacant land reclamation, and the green economy.  GTECH has only been around since 2006, but they’ve learned a lot about promoting the green economy over the past 5 years, and Khari Mosley shared those lessons with us at GLUE.

  • First, focusing solely on training isn’t enough. For programs to be successful, community, political, and business leaders all need to be actively engaged to make sure that programs are comprehensive and reflect actual needs and opportunities. GTECH is partnering with everyone from the unions, to the Housing Authority, to other area non-profits to implement their programs. This collaboration has led to a 63% placement rate for graduates of their Breaking the Chains of Poverty program. They’re also engaging political leaders through their Metro Scale Up program to ensure that there are policies in place to support green jobs.
  • Second, it’s not enough to do the work – if you want people to support the comprehensive programs and policies you’ve worked so hard to create, you’ve got to tell the story, too. To do that, GTECH has begun to focus on several community and consumer education efforts, so that everyone understands the benefits of creating a greener economy.
  • And finally, you’ve got to prepare the next generation of leaders to pick up where you leave off. Along with a host of partners, GTECH is identifying, educating, and engaging young and grassroots leaders to do just that.

One emerging market for green jobs will be in the water sector. As the Pittsburgh region, and many others across the country, prepare to invest billions of dollars in their failing water and sewer infrastructure, we need to make sure that local residents are prepared to implement the green solutions that will be a piece of that work. Abe Taleb, of  re|work, also presented at the GLUE conference about the work being done by the Pittsburgh Pipeline, also presented at GLUE. They are currently working with area high school students to make sure they are prepared to enter careers in the water industry. However, given the scale of investment, there is certainly more work to be done in preparing for future workforce opportunities.

At Fourth Economy, we are tracking many of these emerging market drivers and helping communities prepare to make the most of future opportunities. We believe that we can learn from challenges faced by yesterday’s green jobs programs, in order to build a more effective and robust green economy for tomorrow.