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How Regions Can Foster a Climate-Resilient Workforce

January 30, 2024

At A Glance

Insights from the Quality Green Jobs Regional Challenge: Analyzing perceptions, barriers, and solutions in pursuit of green jobs and skills

Contributors
Sarah Abra Beu Senior Analyst
Practices & Centers

As the United States confronts social, structural, and economic shifts driven by climate change, the need for workers with new skills and capabilities is clear. But not enough workers are trained and prepared for these opportunities. To support regions in this moment, Jobs for the Future (JFF) launched the Quality Green Jobs Regional Challenge to directly invest nearly $5 million in communities to develop and implement regional strategies to grow quality green jobs. The challenge is part of Climate-Resilient Employees for a Sustainable Tomorrow (CREST), a five-year, $25 million initiative of the Ares Charitable Foundation to prepare and reskill individuals for green jobs to help ensure an equitable and inclusive economy. 

The Cross-Site Analysis  

In Phase 1 of the Regional Challenge, 20 regional leaders (or Challenge Members) were selected to participate in a national learning network. Challenge Member regions include states, state coalitions, and major cities. Collectively, regions in the learning network represent 75.5 million people. 

To document the prevailing needs of all regions in increasing access to quality green jobs, JFF conducted a cross-site analysis. The analysis included interviewing the 20 Challenge Members, who represent a range of organization types and industries. 

Challenge Member Organization Types

  • Universities
  • Workforce development boards
  • Nonprofits
  • State governments 

Challenge Member and Stakeholder Industries

  • Construction
  • Energy
  • Infrastructure
  • Conservation
  • Resiliency and recovery
  • Water supply
  • Transportation

JFF also conducted interviews with stakeholders identified by Challenge Members including three students (two in high school and one in college), eight workers, and six employers.  

Interview questions asked participants about their perceptions, motivations, barriers, and opportunities for increasing access to quality green jobs and skills. The following highlights key findings and recommendations generated from the cross-site analysis.  

Key Takeaways and Recommendations 

Key Finding 1: There is a need for more national cross-industry networks that assemble employers, workforce development boards, and workers around the shared goal of increasing access to quality green jobs and skills. This collaborative approach allows for shared learning and building a cohesive vision for the future green economy.  

It’s critical to have programs like [CREST], because otherwise, if we go too far down the wrong direction, it’s so hard to pull back and to go forward again. Having someone to bounce ideas off and share best practices with is just critical.

Challenge Member

Key Finding 2: Regions need support to build awareness and messaging around quality green jobs. Many interviewees, including employers, reported a lack of awareness of, and access to, information on quality green jobs and skills. Some had never even heard the term green job. This finding underscores the need for better messaging and awareness campaigns to promote the available and emerging opportunities within the growing green economy. It also highlights the need for a clear definition of “quality green job.” Partnering with employers early on can help shape this message. 

I don’t think most people realize that the skills they already have are immediately transferable to something. It’s just having the industry meet them there. I think that’s one of the most difficult things, because people understand the pathway that they took, but it’s hard for them to conceptualize something that doesn’t quite exist yet.

Challenge Member

There needs to be more awareness around [green jobs]. I’m still in high school, but it’s hard for me to imagine just finishing college, then immediately getting a job. Where do I look? Where do I find this? Who do I talk to?

Student

Key Finding 3: Successful regions build trust and understand regional context when increasing access to quality green jobs. Trust building among local entities is crucial for creating sustainable workforce development solutions. For example, employers must work in tandem with regional leaders to understand and counter any negative economic and environmental impacts of companies that previously established operations in the area. In addition, access to regional history, demographics, and labor market information can help workforce development leaders understand local context and design appropriate solutions. 

When [one company] left, it decimated the community...and caused a lot of environmental damage. When people hear battery or even clean hydrogen, they’re thinking environmental contamination. It’s a real fear. They’ve seen their parents lose their jobs. It’s changing that perception with facts and not over-promising but really being a partner in educating what that means and how it’s different.

Challenge Member

We do a lot of community engagement. It’s something that we feel is super important. We want to ensure that the community is welcoming to these projects and that the projects are supporting the communities. [Our company provides] money for local causes through conversations with county officials. They’ll say, ‘Hey, we really need help funding the school playground or school.

Employer

Key Finding 4: Increasing access to quality green jobs will require addressing learner and worker misconceptions. Learners expressed concerns about perceived barriers to pursuing green jobs, such as low pay and the replacement of existing industries by green jobs. Regional leaders have a unique opportunity to reframe this narrative by showing workers the need for green skills and what quality green jobs are available in their region.  The transformation of jobs and skills to fill critical gaps for a green economy can address concerns and perceptions about job loss.  

I feel like there’s this stigma around green jobs that you’re not going to get paid super well. You’re taking jobs from other industries that have been here forever. I think that also creates a barrier.

Student

Key Finding 5: Regions reported a need for supports to access training and career opportunities for workers. Employers and Challenge Members emphasized the need for more services to facilitate individuals’ entry into green jobs. For example, workers need support to overcome systemic barriers such as limited access to transportation, child care, and paid training opportunities to engage fully in the labor market.   

They need training, but they need training in such a way that it does not disrupt whatever survival mechanism they currently have, whether it’s a terrible-paying job in the formal economy or a higher-paying job in the informal economy.

Challenge Member

A Call to Action and CREST Resources That Can Help Regions Increase Access to Quality Green Jobs 

These insights can help inform any region that seeks to increase access to quality green jobs, but they are only the beginning. To create a climate-resilient workforce and address the demands of a more sustainable economy, collaboration is key. We call upon local and regional leaders, employers, learners, and workers to unite and take action. Here’s how leaders can contribute to the creation of climate-resilient jobs with links to CREST resources to increase access to quality green jobs: 

  1. Collaborate with those increasing access to quality green jobs: Establish or join a network focused on green jobs and skills. By working together, you can share knowledge, resources, and best practices to increase access to quality green jobs. Connect to companies and organizations already doing this work well.  
  2. Raise awareness about the opportunities for green jobs and skills: As a community, focus on raising awareness by defining and listing the benefits of quality green jobs and skills. This includes dispelling misconceptions, highlighting opportunities, and engaging in conversations with residents about how good green jobs contribute to a resilient climate and a stronger economy.   
  3. Understand local context through conversations and data to address concerns about green jobs: Every region is unique, and understanding the specific context of your community is crucial. Collaborate with employers, community members, and local leaders to address regional needs and secure community support. 
  4. Create a win-win for employers by supporting workers in accessing quality green jobs and skills: Collaborate with employers to bridge skill gaps for in-demand quality green jobs through accessible training opportunities. Demonstrate how expanding access to quality green jobs for workers underrepresented within an industry will support employer hiring goals and diversity, equity, and inclusion commitments. 
  5. Give jobseekers and students the information they need to pursue quality green jobs: Empower jobseekers by providing resources and career mapping tools that guide them toward green job opportunities. Describe how green jobs can support a regional economy and provide training for these roles. Explain to jobseekers that they can contribute to the green economy and access living wages. Advocate for career opportunities that support workers in overcoming barriers by providing access to transportation, child care, and paid training.

These recommendations will help regions increase access to quality green jobs within their communities. The JFF and CREST collaboration helps continue this work and will deepen our impact, harness new opportunities, and contribute to a green, resilient future that benefits generations to come. If you are interested in learning more, visit JFF.org/crest.  

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