Portland resident Sary Dobhran never thought she would end up on welfare. But when she was four months pregnant, her son's father passed away, leaving her on her own to support a small child in the worst economy since the Great Depression.
Fortunately, she didn't give up. She enrolled in an apprenticeship program and picked up the skills she needed to work in the budding energy efficiency sector. Today, Sary is a certified energy analyst and leads energy efficiency audits on homes. She's also aware that things could have turned out differently had it not been for the job training she received.
"I wouldn't be here today without programs that were put in place in hopes that someone like me would take advantage of them," she says.
These kinds of job training programs are even more important now that President Obama has committed unequivocally to fighting climate change. That's because we simply can't get our clean energy and energy efficiency industries to scale unless we train American workers to be a part of the effort.
By preparing more Americans to work in industries like wind, solar and energy efficiency, and in building and maintaining green infrastructure like stormwater systems, we support technological innovation and expansion that will help make us a global leader in the new clean energy economy.
In just one state -- California -- workforce development programs helped 2,739,393 people find jobs or gain valuable training for employment in 2010 alone, at a time when the unemployment rate hovered above 12 percent.
The Manufacturing Institute reports that more than 80 percent of manufacturers say they can't find the skilled talent needed to fill their jobs, leaving more than 500,000 vacant positions. Meanwhile, millions of Americans are desperately searching for work.
If the solution seems simple, that's because it is. By giving workers a chance to develop job skills in the growing clean energy economy, we not only fight unemployment -- we give our country's promising green industries the most valuable asset of all -- trained, competent, knowledgeable American workers.
When we invest in our workforce, we are better prepared to fix our crumbling infrastructure and create new cleaner, greener, twenty-first century systems that help fight and respond to climate change. Repairing our nation's water infrastructure -- which is currently so broken that we have thousands of sewage overflows a year -- would create as many as 2 million new jobs. But we need workers equipped to fill them.
Training workers for these kinds of high-quality American jobs brings another benefit: It's one of the smartest strategies we have to support the folks who are on the front lines of climate change and pollution -- low income communities and people of color.
We have a moral obligation to help these communities become more resilient in the face of climate change, because they are hit first and hit worst. Communities with the fewest resources have the hardest time escaping, surviving and recovering from storms and extreme weather, and they suffer the worst health effects of the coal and oil pollution that cause global warming.
Investments in clean energy and green infrastructure give these folks a chance to make economic gains and build stronger, healthier communities that will be more resilient in the face of climate change and other challenges. And the green jobs that are created help build pathways out of poverty.
That's because jobs in the clean energy economy pay more -- 13 percent more than the median U.S. wage -- while requiring less formal education. That's a formula that opens doors into the middle class. But not without the right job training.
Increasing investment in job training programs must be a part of our plans to address climate change. If we want to build cutting-edge, robust clean energy and efficiency industries, if we want to restore American leadership, if we want to fight poverty with good, healthy jobs that can't be outsourced -- we'll invest in job training programs that keep our workforce competitive in a twenty-first century economy.