Jobs

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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Toxic Soil Busters: Who You Gonna Call?

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By Asa Needle

When I first joined Toxic Soil Busters I cared about environmental issues, but I saw them as enormous and complex problems that were too big for me to tackle. My perspective quickly changed when I learned about Worcester RootsToxic Soil Busters program, a youth-run cooperative that does remediation of soil contaminated with lead, sustainable urban landscaping, and environmental justice outreach. Before I started with the Toxic Soil Busters I considered environmental burdens, disparate health impacts, and a lack of opportunities for young people in our communities as separate issues. My experience in Toxic Soil Busters helped me understand how these problems are connected, and that any meaningful solution to these issues needs to address them holistically.

Perhaps the best way that I internalized these lessons was through our outreach to communities affected by lead paint. Before it was outlawed in 1978, cheaper lead paint was used in households and apartments. Even though most of this toxic paint has been painted over, the toxic metal still can find its way into the soil and remain there for hundreds of years. Young children playing in the mud of their backyards are especially vulnerable as their bodies are still growing. Lead can affect the heart, bones, intestines, and kidneys, as well as the brain, where it can manifest as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities.

TSBsummer2011-300x223Rather than just try to clean up this dirty soil, Toxic Soil Busters takes a different approach. We empower youth by giving them the skills to combat lead in their own communities. For example, we are currently researching new ways to remediate lead-filled yards. Phytoremediation uses perennial plants such as geraniums, which soak up the lead and are then safely disposed. Other solutions include dilution through extensive composting, or reducing bioavailibility by using elements like phosphate. Young residents are at the forefront of our work in each case where we are working in neighborhoods to contain or remediate toxic lead soil.

Inner-city kids – particular in the Worcester neighborhoods of Main South and Piedmont – often don’t have access to many opportunities, and are on the front lines of environmental threats. We build those opportunities, where they can learn job skills as they confront social justice issues. Additionally, as part of a movement of co-operatives, we support a local economy that can provide green, sustainable jobs to youth.

Since Toxic Soil Busters started in 2006, we have remediated the yards of over forty homes, preventing future lead exposure and helping families sleep easy. We have seen far greater awareness of healthy homes issues in Worcester through our outreach, leading to more funding going towards these initiatives. Through our outreach, we have talked to hundreds of people, and thousands have heard our message. Some thirty youth have passed through Toxic Soil Busters, many going on to college and careers they didn’t even dream of when they first joined.

There are many problems that are keeping opportunities out of reach for the youth in our communities. Worcester Roots has taught me how to aggressively approach these problems, and design holistic solutions to address them. I learned how to think like an entrepreneur and an activist, and the work I do for the rest of my life will be defined by my experience here.

About the author: Asa Needle is Coordinator of Outreach and Education of the Worcester Roots Project, a non-profit dedicated to co-operative development, youth empowerment, and making neighborhoods safer for living, working, and playing. Worcester Roots Project runs cooperative-style social entrepreneurship youth programs with an environmental justice focus, including the Toxic Soil Busters. He furthers their mission of a just and sustainable world through collaborations with the Solidarity and Green Economy Alliance, Co-op Power, and Stone Soup Community Center.

(Winning video submitted by Toxic Soil busters for EPA’s Faces of the Grassroots Video Contest for Student Informational Video)

 

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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Revisiting Mr. Ford

By Tom Murray

I was chatting with my 11-year old Grandson, Alex recently.  I always find these discussions illuminating.  You see, Alex has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.  If you are familiar with children who have this disorder, you know that amidst significant social challenges, there can be this ribbon of super intelligence that presents itself when you least expect it.

So there we were, sitting side by side, me reading from my Kindle and he playing with some angry birds on his I-pad, when he asks me, “So, what are you working on at EPA now, Pop-Pop?”

I reply, “Oh, I don’t know, Alex, I guess I’m working on solving a puzzle of sorts.  We are trying to bring people together as a team and help people in this country who make things.  We want to help manufacturers make things that are better for them, better for you and better for the environment.”

He was quiet for a moment and I thought that perhaps I had given him TMI.  Ha!  He was just processing.

“You mean like Henry Ford when he invented the assembly line process for making cars”, he says, as he twists his I-pod to launch a particularly elusive angry bird.

“Yes, I replied, “like that.  It is hard sometimes to get the right people together and solve problems as a team.”

At this point, he put the I-pod down and I thought the conversation was over.  He popped up and announced that he was going to play on the computer.  As he left the room, he looked back at me and said, “Well, for a puzzle like that, why don’t you think like Henry Ford?”

I smiled and returned to my Kindle when I paused and then realized that Alex was right.

Over the last several decades we have become so specialized as a society that, perhaps, we have allowed it to affect the way we think.  As a result, when we address issues like jobs, advanced technology or preventing pollution as they pertain to American manufacturing, we typically confer with those in our peer groups, thought-leaders, if you will, assigned to one station within an assembly line. This may have worked well in the past, but I’m not sure it will work to solve problems illuminated for us by this new concept of sustainability.

We cannot redesign a headlight without first making sure the automobile chassis has been re-constructed to accept it.  Similarly, we cannot expect innovative ideas associated with advanced technology to be accepted by American manufacturers if they are not yet ready to pursue them.

What I’m suggesting here is that to be successful in helping American manufacturers thrive in this new era of sustainability, we need to turn traditional thinking on its side and engage with those in the sustainability assembly line with whom we traditionally have not.  Perhaps, this is why the E3: Economy, Energy and the Environment framework has been so successful.

Food for thought.

About the author: Tom Murray joined EPA way back in 1971 and has never lost the passion for pollution prevention and helping manufacturers become more sustainable.

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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Fourteen Years of Green Jobs

By Joe Bruss

Working in the Brownfields program, that brings contaminated property back to life, I keep hearing green jobs are only in clean energy such as solar or wind installation. But there’s much more. One of the things people may not know about are the environmental workforce development and job training grants that EPA awards to organizations for green job training in a wide array of cleanup activities.

Organizations who receive these grants train and place people in sustainable green jobs focusing on local activities to reverse environmental damage in their own communities! So what do these grants do? They give organizations money to train people with skills to market themselves for green jobs. What are these green jobs you ask? They can include support for hazardous and solid waste management, mold remediation and deconstruction, underground storage tank removal, and critical training in environmental health and safety. But that’s not all, there is much more and the benefits are even greater.

Graduates from these training programs were employed as first-responders at the World Trade Center, assisted in cleanup efforts after Hurricane Katrina, and helped to contain the BP oil spill in the Gulf.

As of January 2012, these grants paid to train more than 10,000 people and 7,155 were employed in the environmental field. And, the average starting pay is about $14.00 an hour. That’s putting people to work and improving the environment in our neighborhoods and communities around the country.

So, as you can see, there are many green job opportunities! Do you want to be part of it? Here’s more information on how your organization can get involved. You’ll be helping the economy and improving the environment for years and generations to come.

About the author: Joe Bruss has been with the EPA Brownfields Program for over seven years where he acts as the Job Training Grant Program and Environmental Justice Coordinator. In 2009, Joe received a Fulbright Grant, and took a year’s absence from the EPA, to conduct research in the Netherlands on Dutch equitable development policies in revitalization.

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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Finding an EPA Job Just Got Easier

By Jeffrey Levy

Wanna work for EPA? The first thing you need to do is find job openings and choose which ones to apply for.

At EPA, like every federal agency, we put our job listings on usajobs.gov.  Normally, you need to go to that site and search for what interests you. For example, here are our job listings .

Recently, we discovered that there’s a RSS feed associated with each search. If you’re not familiar with RSS feeds, that just means we can pull a particular search into various other places. So far, we’re putting them in three new places:

We’re also working on an email subscription service, so you can get a daily email with that day’s listings.

If you have your own Web page or blog, you can also grab our job search widget.  That’ll let your readers easily search for EPA jobs right from our site. Here’s how it’ll look:

All of this is really just the start to help you find EPA jobs and understand what’s it like to work for EPA (I should mention that I love working here, and I’ve got 17 years in so far). Over the next several months, we’re going to revamp our current careers site to really take advantage of social media and multimedia.

Got any ideas on what we should include in the new site? Share ‘em below!

About the author: Jeffrey Levy is EPA’s Director of Web Communications

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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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Science Wednesday: Green Investing: Venture Capital for the Environment

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Mary Wigginton is an Environmental Protection Specialist in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She recently attended an all-day public meeting of the EPA-Venture Capital Community Summit.

image of Mary Wigginton

Meetings are a staple of work life in a large organization, especially government, but they are not my idea of a productive day. A few weeks ago, I broke from my routine of what I consider “real” work and attended an all-day public meeting of senior managers from EPA and members of the “venture capital community.” After the usual opening pleasantries, Hank Habicht, a former EPA Deputy Administrator turned venture capitalist, said something about “a convergence of factors that I haven’t seen in 25 years,…global environmental issues, … unprecedented financial capital even in this economy,…EPA expertise.” The possibility that a “convergence” was happening got my attention. I completely tuned in.

I learned about “the valley of death,” a melodramatic phrase for what happens to technologies that never make it past the design stage. The “valley of death” is when the seed money runs out and nothing is left for scaling up production, distribution, or marketing. This is the stage where, if the developer is fortunate, the venture capitalist steps in.

According to the National Venture Capital Association, venture capital is a long-term—usually ten to 15 years—investment in an innovative company. Several well-known companies got off the ground with venture capital: Microsoft, Apple, Google, FedEx. In the world of finance, venture capital is approximately 0.02% of total invested dollars, but contributes a significant share of jobs and revenue to the economy. In 2006, it accounted for 10.4 million jobs, $2.3 trillion of U.S. revenue, and 18% of the gross domestic product.

Today, technologies for energy efficiency, pollution control and pollution prevention (“clean tech” to venture capitalists) are seen as the next great opportunities for investment. Venture capitalists want to invest in clean tech, and this is where EPA research and development come in. By tapping into EPA’s science and technology expertise, venture capitalists can gain a better understanding of market forces over the next ten to 15 years and snatch the next great environmental technology ideas from the “valley of death.”

As meetings go, this one turned out to be a good investment of my time. I suspect that we all will be hearing more about EPA and venture capital.

Check back next Wednesday for a follow-up post on this topic, and to find out more and keep tabs on how this “convergence” progresses visit: http://www.epa.gov/ncer/venturecapital/

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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