Green Building Training for Low-Income Communities
It’s a common lament: green building too often benefits people at the higher end of the income spectrum. That could finally be changing … at least a little.
Two training programs—one in Baltimore and one in Chattanooga, Tennessee—aim to spread green building skills throughout lower-income communities. There are dual goals: to help low-income people find jobs in the green building industry and to encourage low-income communities to adopt sustainable building strategies.
“I didn’t know anything about it at first,” said Allen Shropshire, a student who recently graduated from the Build It Green training programs run by the nonprofits Green Spaces Chattanooga and Build Me a World. But after some time in the program, Shropshire was inspired—especially when he saw net-zero-energy homes firsthand. “It gave me hope that we can do a lot more things in this city with what we already have,” he told BuildingGreen.
The Build It Green program introduces students to a wide variety of green building principles and skills, from sealing leaky ductwork to understanding whole-house computer models. A major goal is to prepare them for entry-level construction jobs—so it also focuses on “soft skills” like how to be a good employee, according to Green Spaces Chattanooga’s Christian Shackelford. A third and crucial area of the curriculum is community organizing and activism, so trainees can “take these skills and make an impact on the neighborhoods students live in,” Shackelford said.
Shropshire has already started work on his own home as well as his parents’ home to make them both more energy efficient. But he doesn’t plan to stop there. “It’s helping me develop myself as a person,” Shropshire said, “so I can potentially build myself a career. … I would love to be a part of something that’s growing.”
Shackelford said some of the jobs the students will be ready for don’t even exist yet in the southeastern U.S. because there is not high demand for green building. “We’re hoping to prepare a workforce that is ready for future jobs,” he said, “so when the time comes, they’ll be there with the knowledge and understanding to take the lead.”
Since Shackelford first spoke with BuildingGreen, the first ten graduates of the program have begun to get jobs. Two have already found work in the construction trades, and another has plans to start a weatherization business. And Shropshire? “We … actually hired him directly for our Empower Program,” said Shackelford. There, he is working to “educate communities about energy efficiency and sustainability in their own living situations.”
“There are two-plus million jobs in the green building industry,” said Michelle Moore, CEO of the nonprofit Groundswell, which focuses on providing community solar projects and economic empowerment in marginalized communities. That’s why Groundswell’s newest program is designed to provide “an on-ramp for people into that marketplace, which is incredibly diverse.”
The program will help students gain professional green building credentials—both LEED Green Associate and WELL AP—as well as direct training in solar project implementation. It’s currently in “train the trainer” mode, with two people working to get credentials and become teachers, but plans are moving forward rapidly. The program is starting in Baltimore but will expand later this year to Washington, D.C., and two locations in Georgia.
Training future educators from within the community is key, Moore explained. “We are in communities where LEED and [green building] technologies have much lower market penetration,” she said. It’s critical to start with “people who are embedded in the community … not someone parachuting in from somewhere else who has a completely different frame of reference. It’s all about going deep into the communities you serve.”
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For more information:
Green Spaces Chattanooga
Published May 8, 2018