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As cities look to meet ambitious climate goals, many are missing key details in their plans to build the workforce they will need.
As cities around the country have set ambitious climate goals, a handful have also laid out strategies to make sure they build the green workforce necessary to install and build all the electric vehicles, solar panels and other new technologies they will need.
Los Angeles, for instance, has set a target of creating 400,000 green jobs by 2050 through partnerships with colleges and universities and by funding startups.
Denver, which has committed to spending $40 million a year to eliminate its greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, has created a summer academy to encourage high school students to pursue careers in the future green economy.
And Cincinnati has set a goal in its climate plan to train 4,000 people for green jobs by 2028.
But troubling researchers at the Brookings Institution is that Los Angeles, Denver and Cincinnati are the “exceptions.” Most cities haven’t produced detailed plans for building the workforce they will need to carry out their climate plans.
Forty-seven of the 50 city climate plans examined by the think tank’s researchers mentioned the importance of training workers, but did so “only in passing,” according to a new Brookings report. Key details are missing in the cities’ plans. Only 11, for instance, mention how they might pay for training more workers.
“They're at least mentioning these issues,” said Joseph Kane, a co-author of the study, Brookings fellow and former economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.”But when you go much deeper, the details really fall off. They provide really no level of detail on who they're going to partner with to train people for those positions, or how they're going to support those positions on an ongoing basis, or what are the targets or benchmarks they're going to shoot for.”
The majority of city climate plans evaluated—39—do not discuss how they’ll pay for reaching their goals. The climate action plans in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky, for example, ”may point to the importance of preparing workers for the green transition and the potential to diversify the economic opportunities available to residents,” the report said. “But they do not necessarily specify how—or how much money—those efforts will take.”
Since most cities’ climate plans are not detailed, the report said that it’s not surprising that “they also do not say what their goals are or when they are hoping to reach them. … Charleston, South Carolina, and Hartford, Connecticut, are among the cities that mention green jobs and the potential for job creation over time,” the report said. “But they do not go into much depth on any estimates or timeframes.”
Spokespeople for these cities declined to comment.
Even with a plan, coming up with all the workers that will be needed is “a lot,” said Shannon Jahn, the green workforce lead for the city and county of Denver’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency.
“We need more people, right?” said Oliver Kroner, director of the Office of Environment and Sustainability for Cincinnati. “This is a body of work that is bigger than the team we have, so the more people we can bring in, the further we believe we can go. There's a big focus on green workforce development, but also thinking about how existing jobs can become more green.”
Addressing the workforce need was important for Cincinnati, Kroner said, because it is the issue most important to community members in dealing with climate change. When the sustainability office held public workshops to get the community’s input, “there was one real theme in all of that feedback,” he said. “It was workforce. I think people can tell that there are changes underway and that there is money to be made. And they want to be a part of it and not left behind.”
Another reason why it’s important, Kane adds, is that it could better position cities to get the billions of federal climate dollars, including funds from the Inflation Reduction Act, that are coming. The federal government is going to prioritize giving those grants to cities “that actually do have the plans to train workers and address some of these issues,” he said. “So places that aren't spelling this out are probably going to miss out on some money.”
And that money is important, according to Denver’s Jahn, because even with the federal help, it is still not enough. Cities, she says, will need to have plans to raise their own money. The Denver City Council, for example, put a ballot measure before voters in 2020 to increase the sales tax by .25%—or 2.5 cents for every $10 purchase. Two-thirds of voters approved the increase, raising $40 million to implement the climate plan and “ensure that climate action drives the creation of new, quality jobs and increases access to those jobs for all people.”
With the revenue from the sales tax increase, Denver handed out $2.1 million in contracts to more than half a dozen organizations to fund programs to attract and train people for green jobs. The city’s summer academy has taken high school students on field trips to see solar energy installations. And internships through the African American Trade Association are being funded.
“They're getting a glance at opportunities like becoming an electrician or going into a solar field,” said Jahn of the internships.
Denver’s workforce department is also looking to train the homeless, single mothers, veterans and minorities for jobs like electricians or solar installers. It is paying workers $20-an-hour to take classes to become supervisors, as well as providing funding to help people pay for transportation and child care while taking classes.
“There's a lot of upward mobility from the high school level into installation and site supervisor,” Jahn said. “We wouldn't be able to do it all honestly, without the climate protection funds.”
The most detailed of the plans examined by the report is Los Angeles’ Green New Deal. In fact, the city has already made progress on its goals. According to the annual report released in May, the city said it is on track to meet its shorter-term goal of creating 100,000 green jobs by 2025. Since 2019, the city has provided 913 young adults with green jobs like working in nurseries or maintaining rivers through an initiative called Hire LA. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Cleantech Innovator, which provides funding for training and office space for green companies, has handed out $695 million to startups.
The mayor’s office did not respond to requests for comments, but the Green New Deal called for working with community colleges to create training for green jobs and working with the private sector to offer more apprenticeships.
“Achieving our bold climate goals is both a moral imperative and a massive economic opportunity,” according to the plan.
In Cincinnati, the city is still working with surrounding Hamilton County and the state on programs to train workers. The city, though, has begun requiring companies that perform work like maintaining parks to hire young adults and expose them to potential green jobs.
“Teens and young adults are in the very beginning stages of employment,” Kroner said. “So this gives them real-world green infrastructure work experience that we hope they can leverage into their next steps—whether that's with parks or other green employers.”
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty, covering Congress and federal policy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Kery_Murakami