Job Training Goes Green

There are very few good reasons why an 18-year-old would be hanging around on the roof of a building. Deylih Teruel recently had one of those reasons.

Teruel, a student at Boston’s Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, was showing off a solar-thermal water heater that he helped install on top of the Red House restaurant in Harvard Square.

"I feel good," he said about the work he completed in a paid afterschool program that complements his plumbing training at Madison Park.

Under the bright April sun, Teruel proudly held up one of the restaurant system’s many glass tubes that collects light and concentrates it at a copper cylinder that ultimately helps heat water for dish washing.

The installation is part of a recent trend: The greening of Boston-area job training courses. As billions of dollars in federal, state and city money, tax credits and other financial incentives support power-saving initiatives, several educational centers in the Hub have either started so-called "green" job-training programs or greatly expanded existing ones.

The Asian American Civic Association, a Chinatown-based nonprofit group providing services for immigrants and refugees, has added 80 hours of energy-conservation education to its 450-hour utilities maintenance program.

JFYNetWorks, meanwhile, is planning two new courses – one in energy efficiency and another in solar panel installation – to begin this summer. The Boston-based nonprofit group also plans to expand an existing 14-week environmental cleanup course supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In addition, Roxbury Community College started a certificate program in energy efficiency and conservation earlier this year and will start another one in renewable energy this fall.

"The area of conservation – I think that’s where we’re going to see a lot of growth" in the economy, said Gary Kaplan, executive director of JFYNetWorks.

Kaplan points to the opening of the funding floodgates that’s pouring greenbacks into green jobs and job training. The recently passed federal economic stimulus act targets billions of dollars for energy conservation efforts, environmental cleanup and renewable energy initiatives. And, just months before that bill was signed, Gov. Deval Patrick signed the Green Jobs Act to support the state’s so-called clean energy technology industry with $68 million over five years. The city of Boston, meanwhile, is funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into such training projects as well.

For JFYNetWorks, this has meant big money. The group received a $200,000 state grant for its solar panel assembly and installation program that will train about 50 people per year. In addition, Kaplan is hoping to win a $500,000 "brownfield" job-training grant from the EPA to train more students how to clean contaminants from the the ground. A brownfield is a site, often urban, that has been polluted by previous uses, such as industry.

The grant, which would be spread over three years, would be on top of the $200,000 biannual EPA grant that funds the school’s current cleanup training course. (The energy-efficiency program that will begin teaching energy auditing and building weatherproofing to 50 students a year later this summer will be paid for mostly by a $200,000 grant from a private foundation.)

Money has also started flowing to the Asian American Civic Association, which recently received a $125,000 grant from the city- administered Neighborhood Jobs Trust so that its building- maintenance program can train students to have an eye for conserving power when they are placed in jobs at residential, hotel or office complexes.

"We never thought about going green (before)," said Chris Albrizio, coordinator for the civic association’s program.

He said that the course, a job-training staple for several years at the association, traditionally taught basic carpentry, plumbing, heating and electrical skills. It now includes lessons on how to upgrade and modify power-sucking systems like air conditioning so they save electricity, how to choose environmentally friendly cleaning products and how to seal leaky windows and doors.

Adding the energy conservation component to the course is a perfect fit, said Albrizio.
"It’s teaching people to have a longer-term cost focus," said Jonah Decola, who runs the Cambridge-based construction company Clean and Smart, and who is an instructor in the utilities maintenance program.

Decola, a self-proclaimed "green" builder since 1993, has seen demand for his expertise and services spike at organizations like the civic association. He also teaches students at Roxbury Community College and he ran the solar-thermal water heater installation at the Red House, guiding a group of about six Madison Park students, including Teruel.

Decola sees such job-training efforts, and the government funding supporting them, as a win for everyone. He used the water heater at the Red House to demonstrate.

The initial cost of the system, which provides hot water for washing dishes at the restaurant and the neighboring Charlie’s Kitchen, sounds expensive at about $50,000, he said. But it saves about $5,800 a year in hot water bills. Those savings, combined with government tax-credits and incentives, mean the system will pay for itself in about four years.

"You can’t find that kind of investment on the stock market," Decola joked. "This system will provide energy for the next 20 years."

Brynna Ledyard, a manager at the Red House, said the initial cost will be worth it in the long run. "I know it is a big investment," said Ledyard. "But you have to look ahead."

Besides, she added, "Who doesn’t want to be green?"

Decola noted that in the process of installing the water heater, students like Teruel got hands-on training that will make it easier to find a job once they are licensed plumbers.
Kaplan agreed that green job training makes sense, because while government funding is supporting classroom time, it is also going toward job creation. This is especially true of the EPA-funded brownfield and superfund initiatives, which have poured billions of dollars over the past decade and a half into cleanup programs.

"The EPA has been very forward thinking," said Kaplan.

But, he added, money for energy conservation will be coming from many more sources over the next several years, which is good news for his – and other – students.

"I think there will be a lot of jobs," he said.

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