By Melissa Friedland
In all the years I worked for EPA in the Superfund program I never thought about local hiring as a part of a Superfund cleanup. Now, as one of two Program Managers for the Superfund Job Training Initiative (SuperJTI), I think about it all the time. This program works hand in hand with Superfund cleanups by providing free training to people living in communities affected by site contamination.
I’ve known over the years that there are a lot of job training programs out there, but SuperJTI uses a totally different model. We actually don’t start any of our projects unless we’ve got a commitment up front from cleanup companies who are willing to take a very serious look at hiring graduates of our program and tell us before we start how many jobs they will have available for people in the community. Once we know that jobs are available, we look for someone we call a community partner, typically a local organization, to help out with recruiting people to participate in and oversee the program on the ground. After a rigorous selection process, participants receive training to prepare them for work at the cleanup. After graduating, they interview with the company doing the actual cleanup and, hopefully, they are placed into jobs. Our community partner stays in touch with the graduates after the program to make sure they are doing a good job.
In fact, over the next few weeks we are training local residents to work in Newark, New Jersey on an initial portion of the Passaic River cleanup. This is the first time EPA is running a SuperJTI in Region 2. Our community partner, Ironbound Community Corporation has done an excellent job with recruitment and outreach. The Remedial Project Manager for EPA, Elizabeth Butler, and Community Involvement Coordinator, Dave Kluesner, have championed the project every step of the way. Graduation is scheduled for March 1 and we’re on schedule to have the graduates working by April. I’ve seen other SuperJTI projects and it’s always exciting because people come in looking to change their life, and take a step in the right direction. After completing the program many go on to careers in the field.
Personally, I think this is an important part of what EPA does – helping people to join the workforce. In just a few weeks of training, participants acquire a skill set that makes them desirable to cleanup employers. Graduates have said that this program changed their life, and it has been gratifying for me to see their transformations and be a part of SuperJTI.
About the Author: Melissa Friedland is the National Program Manager for SuperJTI representing EPA Regions 1-5. She has worked for EPA for more than three decades and she is based in Washington, DC.