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In Community With JFF’s Quality Green Jobs Regional Challenge Members

10 Regional Partners Develop Place-Based Strategies for Climate Resiliency

July 9, 2024

At a Glance

Building equitable green job access through community collaboration, systemic support, and innovative strategies to foster a resilient, inclusive green economy across diverse U.S. regions.

Lucy Fernandez Manager
Julia Delgado Manager
Sara Vander Zanden Director
Practices & Centers Topics

With support from the Ares Charitable Foundation, Jobs for the Future (JFF) is investing to advance equitable access to quality green jobs in regions across the United States. The 10 members of our Quality Green Jobs Regional Challenge are implementing strategies to make their communities more climateresilient. This spring, JFF spent time in community with each of the challenge members. Though they are grappling with diverse climate concerns that range from rising sea levels in New Orleans to worsening air quality in the Inland Empire of Californiaand though each is doing so while facing needs specific to its regional workforcewe uncovered shared opportunities and alignment around innovative visions for a just transition to a more climateresilient future. 

Building and nourishing a regional ecosystem rooted in trust and collaboration is a critical driver of growth and inclusion in the growing green economy. 

Investing from the ground up, at the community level, is where sustainable change occurs. Challenge member Jon Shefner, a sociology professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, put it concisely: “The best way to understand the world is to talk to people.” As trusted conveners in their communities, our challenge members are building coalitions, setting up communities of practice, launching industrysector partnerships, and pursuing other solutions with the aim of building inclusive and resilient regional green economies. Besides fostering innovation and being platforms for sharing resources, knowledge, and sustainable practices, regional ecosystems also help to ensure the alignment of efforts across stakeholders, from community-based organizations to workforce development agencies to employers. By developing stronger bonds of trust and collaboration among partners in their region, our challenge members are reducing the fragmentation and overlap of efforts and enabling each organization to contribute their specific strengths to the effort. Collectively, regional partners can also serve as a litmus test to ensure that workers are placed in quality jobs and that training is aligned with those jobs.  

In our rural community, we think about being big by being small, together.

Molly Hemstreet, founder and co-executive director, the Industrial Commons

Addressing systemic barriers to access and equity across green industries is a priority for meeting current market demand, overcoming labor shortages, and ensuring a just transition. 

The transition to a green, decarbonized economy has the potential to create nearly 400 million new jobs by 2030. Despite this unprecedented economic opportunity, access to quality green jobs and emerging training pathways is limited, especially for women, people of color, and others facing systemic barriers to quality jobs 

Challenge members have elevated that disparities in education, training, employment opportunities, and access to essential services pose a risk to the communities our challenge members serve, especially people in the communities most impacted by climate issues and marginalized by traditional workforce approaches. This includes but is not limited to workers who are Black, Indigenous, live in rural areas, or have criminal records. To address these barriers, many challenge members are considering or already implementing the following approaches: 

  • Systemize the pathway from recruitment to training to job placement while ensuring consistent and ample support services each step of the way. Lyra Colorado is building a statewide ecosystem that fosters green jobs pathways through a network of partners engaged in all stages of education and workforce development. Lyra’s work focuses on awareness-building and training opportunities within K-12. They pass the baton to Colorado Succeeds, a coalition of business leaders that focuses on creating stackable approaches for green skills, certifications, apprenticeships, and degrees. To clarify and promote these pathways, Lyra has identified a need to define stakeholder roles to enhance statewide efficiency and collaboration, minimizing redundant efforts. It is crucial to involve industry and labor representatives in the process to inform and validate strategies. 
  • Create intentional spaces for employers to learn and innovate on integrating equity principles into green jobs and how to incorporate them into their businesses and projects. Several regions found that work environments can be unsupportive or even hostile for women and people of color, which can lead to high turnover. This dynamic exacerbates under-representation and labor shortages, which must be addressed to meet the U.S. green job growth.  To meet this demand, challenge members are prioritizing employer engagement and training on equity principles. How we define and grow quality green jobs is essential to expand economic opportunities for workers and support employers’ talent needs.
  • Listen and ensure a diversity of perspectives. Utah State University, an R1 land grant university, hosted geographically diverse listening sessions throughout the state. It convened students, educators, farmers, energy workers, local government representatives, business owners, and other residents to learn about local ideologies, opportunities, and barriers related to Utah’s clean energy transition. (All participants were given honorariums for sharing their time and perspectives.) Themes from listening sessions included the cultural, political, and religious considerations that are specific to Utah; the urban/rural divide within the state; the role of youth in Utah’s clean energy transition; and the importance of trusted messengers that understand the state’s traditions and values. Engaging diverse communities in decisions and changes that impact their daily lives is essential to building trust, stewarding a just transition, and driving sustainable economic development. 
  • Align workforce skills with the evolving demands of green industries. Ensuring that training programs are relevant, up-to-date, and responsive to industry needs is essential to bridge the skills gap and facilitate successful job placements. Further, the market must accommodate individuals with diverse backgrounds, from individuals with various educational credentials to people with records. Worst-case outcomes common to all the challenge members is misalignment with employers: training individuals, especially those facing systemic barriers to quality jobs, for jobs that are not available or accessible.

Our motto is ‘Do no harm.’ We never want someone to go through a training for a job that they could never get due to what many times can be an arbitrary policy barrier, particularly for a justice-impacted individual*.

Kristina Kent, director of workforce programs, Greater New Orleans Foundation
  • Consider workers in legacy industries whose jobs are at risk in the growing green economy. Workers in legacy industries such as coal and steel have skills that are readily transferable to green jobs. However, legacy industries tend to be unionized and pay high wages compared to emerging green industries, creating a lack of incentive both for workers to enter green jobs and for labor unions to formalize and scale green training programs for their members. There are currently federal incentives under consideration that would offer clean energy subsidies for energy jobs and wages, which could help address the skilled labor shortage in the growing green economy and ensure competitive wages and benefits for workers.  

*Please see JFF’s Language Matters Guide for context on our recommendations to date on how to write and speak about people in reference to race, ethnicity, skills, income, criminal records, disability, and gender identity.


If we want rural students and communities to engage, we have to make the connection between green skills and high wages.

Participant in the Rural Intermediaries Meeting
  • Ensure paid work-based learning opportunities. Traditional educational routes may not always align with the evolving demands of green industries. Apprenticeship programs such as those offered at Portland General Electric’s Sherwood Training Center, offer a hands-on approach to learning infused with efforts to diversify the talent pipeline, such as covering the cost of tools, training, and a commercial driver’s license as well as working closely with community-based organizations and women’s trade association on a recruitment strategy. 
  • Engage with local political partners. Southwestern Pennslyvania’s Clean Energy Workforce Roundtable, established in 2021 and led by Sustainable Pittsburgh, is a diverse group of stakeholders deeply invested in the Pittsburgh region’s future. The coalition includes political stakeholders, such as the deputy chief of staff for Pittsburghs mayor, highlighting the strategic significance of local government partnerships. Southwestern Pennslyvania’s political partners support coordinated approaches to clean energy initiatives, especially aiming to leverage employer partnerships and access federal funding opportunities. The City of Pittsburgh’s mayors office plays a crucial role in initiatives such as the Pittsburgh Workforce Hub and the Pittsburgh Good Jobs Principles, ensuring industry commitments to training, equity, and accountability.  

Challenge members in rural regions face barriers related to geographic isolation, limited economic opportunities, and aging infrastructure, which can exacerbate inequality and hinder social mobility, and those in urban areas contend with gentrification and racial segregation, highlighting the need for equitable development strategies and policies that benefit all residents. Across the board, lack of affordable housing also poses a challenge. Together, these challenges exacerbate the tremendous need for continuous wraparound supports for workers. 

Providing ample and consistent wraparound support services that extend from training to career is essential to workerand employersuccess.  

Wraparound services can significantly impact a person’s ability to engage in workforce development and retain employment. Tailoring them to communities’ needs reflects a holistic approach to worker success. In many cases, wraparound services for workers also increase profitability for employers. Telos Global, an advanced manufacturer and partner of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is known for its dedication to the well-being and career advancement of its employees. It provides a tuition reimbursement program, apprenticeships, and work-based learning opportunities. Additionally, it collaborates with local community colleges to enhance employee training and certification programs. While Telos is striving to do right by its employees, it has also made these investments to overcome recruitment and retention challenges, grow its business, and increase profitability.  

It is also important to address the barriers that people may face in accessing and maintaining employment in quality jobs. Many challenge members are working with partners to provide wraparound support services such as career counseling, job placement assistance, transportation assistance, child care support, affordable housing, and financial literacy training. For the Inland Empire Labor Institute / Plug in IE, for instance, they and their partners emphasize the importance of financial literacy—the IUOE Local Union 12 offers a course on finances for trades workers, and Tradeswomen Sisterhood, an electrical pre-apprenticeship program for women founded by an organizer from IBEW Local 440, has financial literacy built into its curriculum. 

Another method of rooting wealth locally and enabling personal financial success for individuals is affordable housing. The Industrial Commons is developing an Innovation Campus, which will house a manufacturing center, equipped for both skilled training and incubation, and a central business support building designed to enhance collaboration with its partners across the region. It has an adjacent parcel where 50 affordable housing units will be built under a limited equity co-operative model that can be an entry point into home ownership for workers as they build long-term wealth and stability. 

Formalizing, certifying, and integrating green skills will support green job growth.

Challenge members emphasized the importance of both durable (soft) green skills and technical green skills. Additional credentials and certifications are needed to formalize and bring legitimacy to both durable and technical green skills, and challenge members emphasized the importance of industry-validated credentials and certifications that create tangible value for workers (such as additional compensation). Binghamton University is at the helm of New Energy New York (NENY), a dynamic and diverse coalition of more than 50 industry partners and 27 counties in upstate New York. Dedicated to propelling renewable energy initiatives forward, with the support of the Quality Green Jobs Regional Challenge, NENY is gearing up to create a standardized, open-source, extended reality (XR) battery safety and career readiness training program. This innovative endeavor aims to address existing gaps in the industry, ensuring comprehensive preparation for high-demand, quality jobs in the battery and energy storage sector. By elevating job standards for battery technicians nationwide, this initiative not only enhances career prospects but also fosters positive climate impacts through the promotion of sustainable energy practices.  

Career and technical education (CTE) programs offer youth and adults promising pathways to high-wage, high-skill, high-demand careers nationwide. New green CTE programs and apprenticeship programs can and must be built, but several communities noted that this will require resources, community buy-in, and staffing that may be lacking locally. They suggested that there may be a more resource-efficient opportunity to integrate green skills (e.g., waste reduction) into existing CTE and apprenticeship programs. 

This approach aligns with JFF’s assertion that all jobs can become greener through the integration of green knowledge and skills. Across geographies, a significant number of green job opportunities are emerging within existing industries and employers. In Colorado, a growing number of mom-and-pop HVAC contractors are seeking technicians with heat pump skills and experience, and increasingly in rural Appalachia, workers at advanced manufacturing plants are assembling parts for electric vehicles. In these examples, many of the core durable and technical skills remain the same, with a growing need for workers with green specializations that are denoted with additional credentials and certifications. 

Finally, challenge members emphasized that if growing the green economy means growing skilled trades, then we must invest in rebranding the trades and diversifying outreach approaches to appeal to women and people of color.  

Collecting and assessing varied data sources is essential to identifying true growth opportunities in the green economy.

Nearly every challenge member found a scarcity of data to be a significant barrier to identifying the biggest and most compelling growth opportunities for green jobs in their region. Even the most current labor market information is at least a year old and doesn’t take into consideration the billions of dollars designated to supporting the nation’s clean energy transition through the Inflation Reduction Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the CHIPS and Science Act.  

Additionally, challenge members working in rural communities identified the need for hyper-local data to buttress the statewide and metropolitan statistical area data that is available through most data tools. Rural community leaders stressed the need to train youth and adults for jobs available in their communities—not 40 or more miles away. Understanding hyper-local labor market needs is essential not only to promulgating growth in the green economy, but also to reducing rural population loss and advancing rural economic development. 

Additional green jobs data—and training about how to verify, collect, braid, and analyze various data sets—is essential to developing training programs that are aligned to local and national labor market needs. 

José Lobo, a clinical associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability proposed another solution: building a large language model that could help analyze the factors required for a clean energy transition and then identify the specific jobs—and, therefore, skills—needed to place workers in those quality jobs.

Building a skilled workforce capable of supporting green industries requires investments in education, training, and workforce development programs. The Quality Green Jobs Regional Challenge demonstrates how initiatives can equip individuals with necessary technical skills while driving holistic, regionally contextualized solutions. Solutions include access to employment opportunities and wraparound support services such as housing, transportation, and health care. Addressing these interconnected issues requires coordinated efforts across multiple sectors and disciplines. The Quality Green Jobs Regional Challenge members all have demonstrated the ability to build trusted, collaborative partnerships, provide capacity-building support, and promote sustainable practices, all of which hold equity at their core and drive toward a more resilient green economy.

JFF and the Ares Charitable Foundation are honored to support and champion our challenge members and look forward to continuing to disseminate findings to the broader field. Please stay in touch and follow along as we continue to discover regional quality green job strategies that drive equitable economic advancement for all.  

The Climate Innovation incubation practice area at JFFLabs takes an inclusive approach to inform, educate, and upskill individuals for climate-resilient jobs through innovation and collaboration across sectors, regions, new business models, and capital investments.  

Climate-Resilient Employees for a Sustainable Tomorrow (CREST) is a career-preparation and reskilling initiative of the Ares Charitable Foundation that aims to close the gap between the demand for a skilled workforce for green jobs and the number of people prepared for these opportunities.

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