SuperJTI

A New PATH to Local, Green Jobs

Job candidate Evonna being interviewed by WNYC reporter on the first day of candidate training. (EPA photo)

By David Kluesner

After about 15 minutes on a PATH train from the city to Newark, you can’t help but notice remnants of New York and North Jersey’s industrial past. Abandoned factories and scarred tracts of land amid the marshlands and mounds of earth resembling old landfills. After crossing the Hackensack River, off to the left, you see the old Diamond Alkali Superfund site in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood.  Perched along the Passaic River, the site is a mere patch of gravel covered property with potted Christmas trees. It’s innocent looking enough, but it’s considered to be one of the worst dioxin sites in the country. After passing the site, on the approach to Newark Penn Station, you can’t help but notice the New York Red Bulls new “futbol” stadium. It’s the new, emerging in the shadows of the old. On February 13 this PATH took me to the offices of the Ironbound Community Corporation in Newark to visit the 15 candidates that are going through the Passaic River Superfund Jobs training program, a national EPA jobs training initiative that is new to our Region.  Fifteen candidates were selected from more than 500 applicants.  Twelve of them who graduate on March 1 will get jobs working on the cleanup of river sediment contaminated by the site decades ago.

Job candidates were tested on physical fitness on tryouts day. (EPA photo)

These 15 bright, eager unemployed or under employed residents had to endure multiple tests, orientation sessions and a day of tryouts to be selected.  Some have pasts filled with challenges and bad choices.  All of them need a job and most really need a second chance. One 58-year- old candidate told the class that when he got the call that he was selected to go through the training he sat down on his sofa and cried,  “Who would hire me, a 58- year- old, unemployed man with a past. There are guys here far younger than me?” Later that day, on Day One of training, a 22- year- old Newark resident told his classmates “You know what I like about this class? I get to be around older people. Not the 20-somethings I always hang with. You older guys have so much wisdom that we younger guys could benefit from.”  One of the 50-somethings replied, “Do you know when the last time someone told me that I had value?  A long, long time ago.” Bringing these local jobs to Newark residents is not only giving them a second chance, its bringing together the new with the old.

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 Creation and Superfund Cleanups – A Good Fit

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.

EPA Community Involvement Coordinator, David Kluesner (far right) leads a jobs training course in Newark, NJ.

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.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.