REDWOOD CITY — About 150 lucky young people will form the ranks of a new Green Job Corps in San Mateo County this fall, one of several "green collar" pilot projects around the Bay Area to receive a first flush of federal stimulus dollars.
San Mateo County will apply its $936,429 in grant funds — awarded by the state, who selected each recipient — toward on-the-job training for the youths, who will learn everything from how to deconstruct a building and recycle the pieces to how to make a home more energy-efficient. Three other grants of similar size were awarded to community colleges in the Bay Area: Peralta Community College in Oakland, Evergreen Community College District in San Jose, and City College of San Francisco.
In San Mateo County, participants ages 16 to 24 will earn a salary of as much as $10 an hour as they cycle through a series of part-time jobs designed to arm them with the theoretical learning and practical skills to appeal to a future employer in the growing "green collar" market.
"Everybody's talking about the 'green revolution,' and this is our chance for moving the youth forward in that," said Dennis Myers, who submitted the grant application on behalf of the Human Services Agency Workforce Investment Board.
Just how widely the notion of a "green" job has expanded in the past few years is obvious from the range of work available to the 150 youths, who all will be recruited based on their family's low-income status, lack of a formal degree, and lack of access to a good-paying job.
Training in the position most commonly thought of as a "green" job, solar panel installations, will not be offered. Instead, program participants will learn how to take apart an old computer donated to Redwood City's Goodwill and put it back together again with parts that work, earning a technician's certificate in the process. They will do trail maintenance with the Student Conservation Association and learn to work as a team.
In Pescadero, an often-forgotten part of the unincorporated Coastside, young adults will receive money as they learn how to construct an organic, water-saving garden — the kind popular with residents who are willing to pay for their help. In South San Francisco, participants will visit the homes of low-income families and analyze cost savings from installing modern appliances and other simple changes to insulate and cool the home — a process known as an energy audit, a job skill very much in demand by companies such as PG&E.
"There are a number of 'green' elements that we've targeted — there might be windows to replace if they have broken, leaky windows," said Norma Fragoso, redevelopment manager for South San Francisco. "It helps them see how construction projects get scheduled and helps them implement a significant-sized, energy-saving project in the community."
One of the most creative projects open to participants is learning how to responsibly deconstruct a building so different parts can be recycled, a program of Oakland-based nonprofit The ReUse People.
Ted Reiff, the group's president, joked that they had been doing "green-collar" work 16 years before the term was coined.
"By deconstructing a building and being trained how to do it, it gives them all other trades that are involved — electric, plumbing, cabinet making, windows. "... So that when they go to get hired by a contractor, they're not some day laborer in the street, not knowing one end of a screwdriver from another. They have some really solid skills," he said.
From the start, the notion of a "green collar" job was one that would put at-risk youths on a path to a high-skilled job and a livable wage while working to benefit the environment.
Oakland-based nonprofit Green For All founded several pilot projects in their community, and Van Jones, the group's former leader, is now green jobs adviser for the Obama administration and has a hand in shaping federal legislation that decides how stimulus funds are spent to employ youths.
A fundamental question remains: Given the state of the economy, how many "green" jobs will exist for young people when they finish their training? Myers is optimistic — San Mateo County's program will set aside some money to help program graduates find full-time jobs if they want them.
"That's the million-dollar question," he said. "I think we're trying to get ahead of the curve here, like a lot of communities, but I don't know what jobs are out there "... the whole county's sort of feeling its way along in terms of green job opportunities."
To learn more about San Mateo County's Green Job Corps, reach Dennis Myers at email@example.com or 650-802-3368.
Reach Julia Scott at 650-348-4340 or firstname.lastname@example.org.