Job Training

How An EPA Grant Transformed Our Lives and Environment

Many employers in Wisconsin can’t find applicants with the right skills and credentials to fill job openings. We refer to this as a skills mismatch – there are jobs available but those who are unemployed don’t have the industry certifications, licenses and credentials to qualify. We’ve engineered the Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps (Great Lakes CCC) using the EPA’s Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training grant program to position our training participants for career and college readiness. We believe individuals from under-represented populations can work in sectors related to environmental remediation while simultaneously ascending to positions of leadership where post-secondary education will be a prerequisite. .

In our Great Lakes CCC program, we start with public-private partnerships that give participants high-level science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) experiences which translate into bona fide occupational credentials. We emphasize disaster planning and preparedness inherent in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration hazardous waste courses and co-enroll our trainees into the AmeriCorps national service program where they also earn college scholarships. Individuals who previously thought post-secondary education was unattainable suddenly find themselves with scholarships they can use for tuition over the next several years.

For example, we put together a cross-sector partnership that utilizes bird species to detect contaminated sediments that impair the water quality of Lake Michigan estuaries. Under the leadership of the U.S. Geological Service, our training participants are in the process of monitoring tree swallow populations for the presence of contaminants that may be bio-accumulating in the species. When contaminants are identified, our training participants transition from the lab to the field to learn alongside remediation contractors who are responsible for the dredging and restoration operations.

Our training participants are individuals who face barriers to employment, and many of them have struggled to get an education or to find work. We’ve found that high-demand, portable, national credentials – the premise of EPA’s environmental job training grant program – are the solution to long-term employment for our trainees. The combination of multiple industry certifications creates new career opportunities. For instance, a commercial driver’s license overlaid with hazardous waste training positions them for occupations in great demand by trucking companies located between Milwaukee and Chicago. We believe everyone is employable – our multi-faceted credentialing approach has resulted in an average 80 percent placement rate and we anticipate sector partnerships and placement outcomes will climb further as we continue to fine tune our training.

About the author: Chris Litzau serves as the President of the Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps (Great Lakes CCC), a regional job training and education program for disadvantaged individuals in southeastern Wisconsin. He is a tireless advocate for preparing young adults from under-resourced communities with national, portable credentials and skills necessary to achieve careers in emerging technologies. He has a strong interest in transitioning job training participants into the water sector. As the former Executive Director for 12 years at the Milwaukee Community Service Corps–an urban youth corps program that engages young adults aged 18 to 23 in community service and public infrastructure development projects—he assembled a team that included the U.S. EPA, Wisconsin DNR and CH2M HILL to pioneer the “Milwaukee Model” as an initiative to place brownfield job training participants in marine environments to assist in the clean-up of contaminated sediments from the Great Lakes and its tributaries.  

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Building Community Resiliency by Training the Next Generation

by Patrick A. Barnes

In 2011, the first of the baby boomers reached retirement age.  And for the foreseeable future, boomers will be retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day, nearly a quarter million a month.

In an effort to help compensate for its retiring workforce, the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) launched several initiatives to reach individuals within communities of need to find future water/wastewater plant operators. One such initiative resulted in a very unique and timely partnership with Limitless Vistas, Inc. (LVI), supported by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

At LVI, our mission is to serve at-risk, underserved, and under-employed young adults, ages 18 to 29 years.  Through our program, participants obtain certifications, knowledge, skills, and hands-on experience in the environmental industry.  Near the end of their training, LVI participants serve in internships with S&WB and local environmental and engineering firms. These internships help the students learn more about potential careers within the environmental industry. It also gives potential employers a chance to work with non-traditional future employees and discover their talents and enthusiasm before offering them a job.

Granville Guillory has used this opportunity to truly excel.

Granville was 20 when he came to LVI after several personal hardships and dropping out of college. His aunt heard about the LVI program and suggested he give it a try.  During his interview, Granville indicated he wanted to work for S&WB and follow in his uncle’s footsteps.  According to Granville, his uncle had worked at the S&WB for most of his life and he was “set.” Granville was looking for the same type of stability in his life.

Granville, along with several other students, were there on June 21, 2012, when EPA announced that LVI was among the recipients of an EPA Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training grant. There, Granville discussed his desire to work for the S&WB. His sincerity and personal enthusiasm earned him a private tour of the facility after the press conference.

Later that year, Granville and seven other LVI members participated in an internship at the local facility, where he continued to impress the staff with his work ethic, curiosity, and natural intuition for the work. And his hard work paid off! After passing the Wastewater Operators State Board Exam, Granville and another student were asked to join Veolia North America (the plant operator) as full-time employees.

Now at age 23, Granville is excelling as a State of Louisiana Class III Wastewater Plant Operator and, as he puts it, “if things go wrong, it is my responsibility to help make them right before any serious damage to the furnace or an emission violation occurs.” Because of his performance and interest in furnace operations, he was asked if he would be willing to travel overseas to broaden his skills. Later this year, Granville will be traveling to Tokyo for six months to learn about a new and more efficient furnace that Veolia is planning to incorporate in its U.S. operations.

Granville also has taken on an active role in mentoring new LVI participants and interns. With his enthusiasm, they are able to see the bigger picture through discussions with him and strive harder to achieve their goals — just like Granville did.

I firmly believe that there cannot be true environmental justice without economic justice, and this tremendous need represents a unique opportunity for impacted residents to obtain meaningful jobs, thus putting them on a path to economic equality and ultimately, helping to build the socio-economic strength necessary for communities like Granville’s more resilient for the future.  It truly takes a unique team of partners working together across governments and with local communities and industry, to connect the dots for environmental workforce development and job training programs to succeed!

About the author: Patrick A. Barnes, President of BFA Environmental is a professional geologist and founder of LVI.  Patrick recently was honoured as a White House Champion of Change Community Resiliency Leader.  Patrick first envisioned LVI in 1997 after years of performing environmental engineering services to poor communities working as an EPA Technical Assistant Grant (TAG) advisor and after working on several Brownfields redevelopment projects in the Southeast.  

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA’s 20th Anniversary on Environmental Justice: A Perspective on Community Work

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Reposted from EPA Connect Blog

By Mathy Stanislaus

I am excited about the 20th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 12898.  Former President Bill Clinton signed EO 12898 on February 11, 1994. I was not there, but I knew the people who were. Some of those people are no longer with us, so today I honor them.

It seems like just yesterday that I started my career right out of law and engineering school. Since that time, I have worked fervently with and for communities ensuring that they have a say in environmental decisions that affect their lives, their children’s lives, and the lives of fellow community members. The well-being of those community members is always in the front of my mind, and drives my work each day.

My foundation for working with communities started with my work on addressing issues such as solid waste facilities, Superfund sites and power plants. Through the redevelopment of brownfields, I sought to advance the renewal of New York’s low- and moderate-income communities. My experiences and the challenges I faced there generated fervor in me to press for greater consideration and inclusion of affected communities in environmental decision-making. I brought the same fervor to EPA when I came to the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response in June 2009.

Every day, I implore the people I work with to consider communities in everything they do – whether it’s permitting a facility, engaging stakeholders in the rulemaking process, or helping our state and local partners understand the importance of listening to the issues or challenges of their constituency.

I often ask myself and my staff, “What action can we take to make a community healthier and more economically sound?” That type of thinking is an important component in many recent programs and policies developed during my tenure. Brownfields’ Area-Wide Planning GrantsCommunity Engagement Initiative (CEI); Chemical Plant Safety and SecurityEnvironmental Workforce Development and Job Training Program (EWDJT); safe recycling facilities; andTechnical Assistance for Communities (TASC) are examples of this thinking.

So, as you can see, I have carried my whole-hearted commitment to serve throughout my career. In my professional life, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most amazing people and I owe most of my successes – both personal and professional – to these people.

At EPA, we will continue to look for opportunities to create healthy, green and sustainable communities. Feel free to share any opportunities that we may be missing.

Happy 20th Anniversary to all of you!

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus is the Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER), leading the Agency’s land cleanup, solid waste and emergency response programs. Mr. Stanislaus is a chemical engineer and environmental lawyer with over 20 years of experience in the environmental field in the private and public sectors. He received his law degree from Chicago Kent Law School and Chemical Engineering Degree from City College of New York. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Environmental Job Training Reaches Rural Alaska

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Map Illustrating Where the Diverse Geographic Areas that Alaska Indigenous Groups Live

By Lynn Zender

At the Zender Environmental Health and Research group, our vision of environmental justice is rooted in the philosophy that solutions must rely on community-based participatory efforts. We are a small non-profit organization based in Anchorage, Alaska and primarily serve what are arguably the most remote communities in the United States— the approximately 180 rural Alaska Native villages off the State’s road system. These Villages of 50 to 1,000 people can be reached only via small plane from one of the regional hubs.  The lack of trained technicians that can address and mitigate the severe solid waste conditions and risks presented at waste disposal sites is a major issue here, as are the very poor economies and lack of income to sustain environmental programs.

And that’s exactly why EPA’s Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training (EWDJT) grant program has been so helpful for us. This grant program helps low income and minority communities with unemployed or severely under-employed populations gain the skills needed to obtain employment in the environmental field.  This EPA grant program melded perfectly with the issues we are working on. Recently, our organization was very fortunate to receive funding from this EPA grant program to develop our Rural Alaska Community Job Training Program (RACEJT).

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RACEJT students receiving instruction during a metal salvaging tour.

RACEJT is unique because we train residents for work in their home villages, which helps prevent rural “brain drain” and erosion of community integrity.  Gaining several certifications related to hazardous materials handling and job safety means that students can be hired by contractors that manage site cleanup, water hookup, landfill, road, facility renovation and other environmental projects. Without these skills, villages are forced to hire contractors with their own crews and the local Alaska Native economies gain virtually nothing from these projects.

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RACEJT student geared for oil spill response training.

Over 88% of RACEJT graduates have been able to find permanent or part-time work.  In both cases, we’ve learned that any income can make the difference and help families retain their lifestyles and continue to live within their ancestral lands.  In these traditional hunting and fishing villages, a day of work can pay for gas to allow a hunter to provide moose, seal, caribou, or other game for his or her family and community, and for artists to search for ivory and other traditional materials used in making creations that they are able to sell and support their family.

One of the beauties of RACEJT is how many of our students gain self-esteem and confidence by succeeding in completing our rigorous program. Many graduates have found back their ways after stumbling on alcohol and other hardships that are all too common in rural villages.  Another lesson we’ve learned is the need to frame the program and students’ responsibilities in the context of Alaska Native cultures.  We invite Elders and other Alaskan Native mentors to evening dinners who offer great praise and encouragement to students working hard to return and help their community protect health and the subsistence way of life.

To those of us who manage the program, each student is a hero for taking on their challenging village environmental health problems, and we let them know it. Students like Brandon Tocktoo, David Olanna, Eric Alexie, and Brandon Willams have returned to their councils and educated their communities about the serious health risks posed by their open burning and uncontrolled dumps.  Chad and Garret Anelon, and Kenneth Charlie have gone back to their villages and instigated infrastructural improvements in their environmental programs. Kacey John has helped to clean up contaminated soil at her school and weatherized homes. Harvey Nusingaya has led the tank farm maintenance for his Tribal Corporation’s oil development program.  All of these students and many more are able to continue their customary and traditional practices and thus contribute to their community’s subsistence and wellness.

About: Lynn Zender is the Director of RACEJT, and Executive Director of Anchorage–based Zender Environmental Health and Research Group.

The EPA’s Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training program, was created in 1998, partly as a result of recommendations raised by the National Environmental Justice and Advisory Council’s (NEJAC) Waste and Facility Siting Subcommittee to provide training and workforce development opportunities for local, unemployed residents of predominantly low-income and minority communities disproportionately affected by brownfields and other polluting facilities. Click here to read more!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Job Training – Community Revitalization – Waste Prevention

Per Scholas Professional Training and Job Placement

EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe converses with students of the Per Scholas IT Training and Job Placement Program in the Bronx.

By Rob Goulding

On Friday February 17, I had the honor of visiting Per Scholas, a nonprofit organization operating in the South Bronx and open to all NYC residents (age 18-55 with a HS diploma or GED).  Per Scholas has the dual mission of providing job training and computer refurbishing.  Students at Per Scholas, through a disciplined 15 week program, learn ‘soft skills’ (interviewing, resume writing, etc.) then repair and upgrade donated computers which are sold, at a discounted price, to low-income residents in the surrounding community.  In addition to a fantastic overview of the organization, presented by CEO Plinio Ayala and VP of Education and Training Linda Lopez, Regional Administrator Judith Enck and I were given a chance to walk through a few active classrooms.

The women and men I encountered were busy learning about technology refurbishment, but were still eager to discuss their participation in the program.  They took pride in learning these skills and were eager to take meaningful steps to participate in the workforce.  In one of the classrooms, each student was busy fixing a problem specific to the computer module they were assigned.  They would then go on to present to each other what their problem was and how they solved it. 

I was struck by the intersection of waste prevention (by keeping these products out of our waste-stream), job training and community revitalization taking place at Per Scholas.   President Obama has made clear, through his policies and recent State of the Union speech, that a knowledgeable and well trained workforce is key to an economy ‘built to last.’  Our recovery will only be made stronger by organizations like Per Scholas, the women and men who train there and finding that sweet spot between job training and sustainability.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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