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Cool Factor: Youth Green Building Careers Symposia Inspires

2011-10-20 BGSB Youth Symposia School FlyerWhen teens report that they'd change "nothing" when asked about the usefulness of an educational event, you know you've done something right! And that's exactly what most students participating in Built Green Santa Barbara's Youth Green Building Careers Symposia said on anonymous evaluation forms. 45 youth and six instructors from local schools and the Youth Corps attended the symposia, which offered inspirational stories, useful career building information, and a tour of the Built Green Resource Center, a historic green remodel located in the Presidio in downtown Santa Barbara.

 A roughly three-hour session (repeated in the afternoon), offered panels of designers, builders, and associated businesses (such as solar installers and window forensic specialists) who used show and tell to describe what they do, shared their personal stories about how and why they came to green building, and discussed what they do to succeed in the field. It was the personal stories that really inspired. One student wrote in his evaluation: "I liked how [the contractor] shared how he started with nothing, and now has a successful business." At the conclusion of the morning and afternoon sessions, participants completed a "job shadow" application identifying their top three choices among the panelists they heard from for a one-hour on-the-job visit.

P1010021For those planning a similar event, several elements factored into its success. Perhaps the most important was the element of partnership. Without youth participants, the event would have been a bust. We needn't have worried. TradartSBC Workforce Investment Board (WIB), and perhaps most importantly Partners in Education (PIE) provided the youth side of the equation. Michelle Magnusson, Program Development and Accountability Manager for PIE, a Santa Barbara County Education Office Program, performed yeoman's work getting the word out to school career centers and coordinating with schools to get students to the event. And WIB provided reimbursement funding and a van to support Youth Corps participation. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this side of the equation was the fact that capacity was limited to 30 for each session. The plus side to this limitation was that only youth who really wanted to be there were there. You could have heard a pin drop during presentations! No fidgeting, no secretive texting. Not your average high school classroom experience!

The second half of the equation — professionals with green building careers — was fulfilled through Built Green's partnership with the Santa Barbara Contractors Association (SBCA). Karin Perissinotto, Executive Director of the SBCA reports she "had no problem filling the panels. We have a very active membership willing to give of themselves for the benefit of Built Green and youth considering green building careers. I wasn't really surprised at the level of interest. We just had to call and they were there!" Further support for the event was provided for the event through a grant from the California Coalition for Construction in the Classroom which is in the sunsetting.

_MG_5723Often, contractors are invited to schools to talk in assemblies and classrooms. Holding the symposia in the Built Green Resource Center, where green building is on display, provided an energizing background to the professionals' personal stories. Green building can be an abstract concept; the Resource Center provided physicality. When Dan George, Vice President of the Built Green Board of Directors and long time green contractor, discussed how the building was insulated and protected against infiltration, he was able to direct participants to the truth window revealing a behind-the-wall look at insulation used in the building, and to turn on a display showing how various insulations protect (or don't) against infiltration.

Panelists were also able to build on each other's experiences, creating themes such as "getting trained, and staying trained" to succeed, and "earning a paycheck for doing work that contributes to the community feels good." What became very clear from the stories panelists shared is that green building careers are not for people who like to stand still! Over and over, panelists shared how keeping abreast of what's changing in the green building world is critical for success, and this learning keeps them excited about showing up in the morning!

In addition to Built Green, PIE, and SBCA representatives, panelists represented 13 organizations, including four design firms: Thompson Naylor, Paul Poirier + Associates, Kent Mixon, and Keeping Interiors; four general contractors: Allen Associates, DL George, and Campanelli; three specialty contractors: SBWindow Forensics, Maverick Windows, and California Solar Electric; retailer Livingreen; trainer Santa Barbara City College Construction Academy; and utility program Energy Upgrade California.

Kathleen O'Brien, Editor of the Building Capacity Blog, recently completed her term as Built Green's Interim Program Director and was the main convener of the Youth Green Building Careers Symposia. Kathleen has a special interest in inspiring youth to enter the green building arena and was featured in "Green Building: Jobs for the Future." She recently celebrated her 20th year as founder of O'Brien & Company, which played an instrumental role in developing Built Green Santa Barbara as well as other Built Green programs in Washington and Hawaii.

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