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Workforce Training Tool Responds Directly to Industry Needs: Interview with Laurie Black, Director Workforce Initiatives

LaurieBlack EDITOR: We enjoyed working with you on developing the "Sustainability in the Building and Construction Trades" course. Can you share with our readers how the course is being used? BLACK: The course was designed to introduce pre-apprentices and apprentices to green building concepts, terms and best practices. There are four recorded modules that can be used as is or used interactively. Quizzes test learning, and a certificate is available for those who complete the course successfully. Instructors are provided a guide to help them run the course.

We launched the course at the Pacific Northwest Apprenticeship Education Conference this past spring and we know it's being implemented in the field. We're getting a great response from the trainers using the course materials. In fact, it's now been adopted for use in the Building and Construction Trades Department's "Multi-Craft Core Curriculum" of the AFL-CIO.

SBCTCurriculum1Why do you think the course is working? A big part of the course's success is its genesis. We started with a 25-member green building industry panel in 2008-2009, chaired by David Allen of McKinstry and including many other design and construction professionals leading in the field of green building, as well as representation from educational, economic development, and workforce development groups. The panel's goal was to identify the highest workforce development priority; they felt strongly it was to integrate green building knowledge across sectors. They also felt it was important to target apprentices first because as these apprentices would move forward in their careers as journey workers and construction project managers they would bring that knowledge with them. The idea for the course emerged from this discussion. In addition, the course was built with the input of an advisory committee representing multiple trades and training programs. So the course was a direct response to the industry's need and was shaped with significant input from industry and industry trainers. Not only that, the narration was done by apprentices. This really appeals to trainers who want to offer something their trainees can relate to.

What's next on the agenda for your agency? The training you helped develop provides a foundation, intended to be used across trades and in any training program. It is not craft-specific by design. Now, through grant funding from the Department of Labor, we are contracting with Joint Apprenticeship Training Committees to deliver craft-specific training. We are also working with local community colleges to provide training for energy efficiency occupations in the built environment as well as training for more senior level positions, such as the commercial building energy auditing course that will be offered at South Seattle Community College.

What else? We have convened a Green Workforce Leadership Council, which includes employers from five green economy sectors: green building, energy production and distribution, manufacturing, transportation (both mass transit and fuel efficiency vehicles) and environmental remediation/protection. The goal of this council is to give us a cross-sector view of workforce needs as the green economy grows in our region. This council also commissioned a study to track all of the federal funds coming into the area, where it is going, and how many jobs have been created from that investment.

What challenges did you face in developing the Sustainability and the Building and Construction Trades? It was new territory for us. For one thing, we found that developing a video course (especially one that isn't boring!) is more involved than we thought. And making sure that all of the course elements went through proper review and met with the approval of the advisory group was of course, time-consuming. It was a great idea to use apprentices to narrate, but they needed a little extra coaching – the results were great though and the extra effort definitely was worth it.

From this vantage point, what key learnings can you offer someone in green building job development? First, an understanding that there are very few unique green building jobs. Mostly we are seeing existing jobs on projects that are pursuing energy efficiency. The skills for the green jobs in demand are largely the same. What is changing is the knowledge required — knowledge about green materials, green products, and green processes. This knowledge needs to be integrated with existing job training programs. In fact, if you create resources outside those normal pathways, your trainees may not be able to access the jobs. Second, an understanding that there has been a significant lag between investments in training and investments in job creation. Estimates of green building job opportunities have been high, especially given the downturn in the economy. We've seen that in terms of weatherization and public building energy audits in particular. Policies and investments to create jobs are just coming on line now. It's important not to overpromise the opportunities, and to pace the training with them as they emerge and the economy recovers.

Laurie Black’s background combines over twenty years of executive experience in private industry and six years in non-profit workforce development, giving her an understanding of both the supply and demand sides of the workforce equation. Currently she is Director of Sector Initiatives for the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County (WDC) with a particular emphasis on green jobs training. The WDC is now leading or is a partner on three Department of Labor grants which bring over $10 million into the region for training in the building and construction trades as well as other occupations related to energy efficiency in the built environment.

SCBCover_Page_01 Editor's Note: O'Brien & Company has also worked with Laurie on developing a job description and handbook for a "Sustainability Coordinator." DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics has just recognized positions related to sustainability, acknowledging that many companies are trying to "green" their operations and not all of them have the knowledge base to do so. Where there's a need, there's a job opportunity! This publication is for businesses and non-profits (especially small to mid-size organizations) that are not likely to have (or need) a senior level manager dedicated to sustainability, but would like to address operational issues in a more sustainable manner.  The publication will be available on the WDC and O’Brien websites and also available in a printed version from the WDC.

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