As the Training Manager for a pre-apprenticeship training program at Nontraditional Employment for Women, I am always looking for pathways to green jobs. But, multiple years after we first heard the term, “green job” continues to be an enigma. Does a green job have to be new? Does it have to be funded by stimulus money? Are all jobs that work with landscaping green? While the phrase has created a great deal of enthusiasm, it can definitely use a healthy dose of clarity and approachability.
At last week’s Good Jobs Green Jobs conference in Philadelphia, Ellen Honigstock of Urban Green Council helped provide this clarity by facilitating a panel discussion with leaders and instructors from three New York City building trade unions.
Ellen introduced the panelists as “the GPRO Dream Team.” Their organizations, along with other knowledgeable trade professionals, helped develop the curriculum and classroom materials for GPRO, Urban Green Council’s national green building program. By contributing to GPRO, unions are demonstrating leadership in the green building industry– and making buildings more sustainable by training their members.
The panelists, each representing a different trade, spoke about their union’s integration of sustainability training and how it applies to their members’ jobs. Bob Muldoon, Director of the Green Building Initiative for the Local 32BJ Thomas Shortman Training Fund, explained the 1000 Green Supers program, in which over 1,500 NYC building supervisors participated in training about efficient building operations. John Sullivan, of U.A. Plumbers Local 1, brought up the valuable point that the plumbers’ curriculum has always taken efficiency and sanitation into consideration, which are some of the key areas of focus for efficient water systems in green buildings. He explained that Local 1’s apprenticeship program offers training for jobs in solar thermal systems and stormwater management and prepares their plumbers to keep up with market demand. Michael Yee, Director of the Educational and Cultural Trust Fund at Local 3 Electricians, mentioned that Local 3 provides classes for their electricians in renewable energy, such as solar panel installation and Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE). He also outlined plans for a LEED- certified training center that will break ground within the year. Howard Styles, Training Director of the IUOE NYC Local 94 Union of Operating Engineers, was unable to attend the panel but Ellen presented some of the green courses they are currently offering.
These plumbers, electricians, and building supers are some of the building trades that have incorporated GPRO into their curriculum. Each panelist reported a similar goal for their training program, which is to ensure that green work practices and concepts are covered before their members move on to more complex coursework. GPRO’s prerequisite course, Fundamentals of Building Green, teaches basic knowledge about sustainability and green building systems, while the higher level trade-specific GPRO courses focus on green practices critical to each trade. The GPRO curriculum stresses the “whole building approach,” making the material relevant to anyone working in the building trades. GPRO also prepares experienced tradespeople to take advanced green training courses in a variety of specialties including Solar PV and Solar Thermal Installation, Building Operator Certification (BOC), or BPI Energy Efficient Building Operator Certification.
John Sullivan pointed out that plumbers trained in solar thermal panel installation have more background and experience to do a quality job because of their foundation, safety perspective and troubleshooting experience than someone trained only in the installation itself. So, if you are looking for green jobs that will become a career, you may not need to look any further than the established union apprenticeship training programs in New York.
Using the GPRO curriculum as a baseline for working within green buildings is helping to provide more definition to the term “green job.” A green job is not what the work is, but how you do it. Plumbing and electrical work and facilities maintenance are all green jobs, when the approach is responsible in terms of resource use and efficient operations.