BOSTON – The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday enacted a package to promote jobs based in the clean energy sectors across the Commonwealth, including an initiative sponsored by State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D – Pittsfield) to advance “Pathways out of Poverty,” a green collar jobs training program.
Green collar jobs, a relatively new concept nationwide, are blue-collar jobs updated to address today’s environmental challenges. Downing believes that the promotion and development of new green collar jobs in Massachusetts offers a unique opportunity for those living in poverty or with barriers to employment to make a living wage.
“The only truly sustainable economy in the 21st century is a green economy,” said Downing. “With increasing demands for clean energy, companies are growing at a rapid pace and a skilled workforce is needed to continue that growth. This proposal knocks down barriers faced by disadvantaged populations who were shut out of past economic expansions.”
The two major clean energy proposals filed for consideration this session, Downing’s and a larger package by House Speaker Sal DiMasi, are combined in this package and focus on advancement of the clean energy technology sector. On Wednesday, the House advanced the Speaker’s legislation, which was redrafted by the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies to include Downing’s green collar jobs workforce development initiatives.
On July 7th, during a public hearing on the two measures, Downing urged the Committee to combine his proposal with the Speaker’s legislation to create an omnibus program for Massachusetts to spur business growth and lift individuals out of poverty.
Downing’s initiative creates Pathways out of Poverty, a new grant program for Massachusetts to develop and implement worker skills training and education in the energy efficiency and renewable energies industries. This new program will focus on training disadvantaged workers in the burgeoning green technology field, where trained workers are needed to handle energy efficient technology and environmental changes across many disciplines including solar and photovoltaic installation, green construction, green landscaping, manufacturing of green products and energy retrofitting. Under this proposal, grants will be given to organizations serving those with barriers to employment, combining the push for sustainability with the demand for a trained workforce. The Pathways out of Poverty will call upon businesses, government, educators and labor to work towards the common goal of developing a robust clean energy sector throughout the Commonwealth.
The legislation also establishes the Massachusetts Clean Energy Technology Center as the state’s lead agency to promote workforce training, conduct market research, support existing Massachusetts clean energy initiatives and to promote pathways towards economic self sufficiency. In addition to administering the newly created Seed Grant Fund to support clean sector research and business development, the Center will be tasked with administering a Green Jobs Initiative Fund to train or retrain college and vocational technical students for the clean energy industry. Additionally, the Center will fund a one-time $100,000 study to conduct market research to streamline the Center’s efforts.
Last summer, Downing hosted a Green Jobs Forum in Boston that featured Van Jones, founder of Green For All. Jones, an advocate for policies that build “pathways out of poverty” within the energy efficiency and renewable energy fields began his work in Oakland, California, but now works to implement the program nationally. Jones and Downing collaborated on this legislation, which is modeled after the Green Jobs Act of 2007, written by Jones and adopted by Congress late last year.
“This is a tremendous little engine that could represent victory for community groups, labor leaders, business and elected officials,” said Jones. “For the first time state leaders have taken concrete steps toward green pathways out of poverty, making sure the green wave will lift all voices. This means Massachusetts will be leaders in fighting pollution and poverty together.”
Downing’s measure has great potential for Berkshire County, where a variety of small photovoltaic and solar hot water companies are growing and looking to expand their workforce. A new certificate program at Greenfield Community College, developed by community based organizations (CBO), businesses, labor unions, and the College, is training workers in green collar job skills. A similar effort is underway at Berkshire Community College and at countless other CBO’s around the state.
The legislation has been forwarded to the Governor’s desk for final approval; he has 10 days to review and make recommendations on the bill. Representatives of the Patrick Administration, including members of his Cabinet, have indicated their strong support for this initiative.