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The Oakland Green Jobs Corps

Case Story

Community story written and posted by BAAQMD and the City of Oakland, October 2010

City: Oakland

Population: 409,189


Local efforts to reduce energy dependence and slow the threat of global warming have the potential to create significant business opportunities. But as the emerging “green economy” grows in Oakland and throughout the East Bay, where can business leaders turn for skilled green collar labor? Enter the Oakland Green Jobs Corps, a program to meet the needs of local green businesses and provide green job training and employment opportunities for low-income residents.

Program Highlights

  • The Green Jobs Corps prepares young adults with barriers to employment (such as lack of job skills, lack of education, language/cultural barriers, or history in juvenile/criminal justice system) for careers in emerging green industries.
  • Graduates are trained to install solar panels on rooftops, weatherize homes to save energy and lower utility bills, and help construct new green buildings.
  • In the 2 years since the start of the Green Jobs Corps, two classes of students have gone through the training and about 30% of them are currently working in the field. The other graduates continue to work with the Corps to develop their career path.
  • The Oakland Green Jobs Corps is one of the first of its kind in the Country and has been looked to as a model for other green jobs programs.

Lessons Learned

  • Training needs to be interdisciplinary to prepare students for opportunities in a variety of green-collar career fields, as well as incorporate training on soft skills to ensure job readiness.
  • Clearly define and differentiate the role that each partner organization will play in the program.
  • Green job training programs will also struggle to place graduates in a down economy, the same as with other job training programs.

Resources To Learn More

The Rest of the Story…

The Oakland Green Jobs Corps was launched in fall 2008 when the City of Oakland awarded $250,000 to partners Laney College, Cypress Mandela Training Center and Growth Sector to start the program. Together the organizations formed a partnership that recruits trainees and provides them with world-class job training, environmental education, and connections to green jobs. In turn, the graduates help advance community climate protection goals by creating a skilled local workforce capable of doing the work necessary to achieve widespread GHG reductions in the community.

“The Oakland Green Jobs Corps provides real opportunities for the trainees and for local green businesses who need skilled labor,” said Jakada Imani, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center. “Our work at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights is about creating opportunity, access, and restoring hope for some of our communities.” Imani and his colleagues played a lead role in driving the creation of the Green Jobs Corps and are working to prove that the environment and the economy can work hand in hand.

Several local companies have formed the Oakland Green Employer Council which provides paid internships to Green Jobs Corps graduates. These businesses have also helped to shape the program’s training and curriculum components to ensure that students come out of the program with the skills that employers are looking for.

Participants move through the program in phases. Students first receive hands-on training in the skills, tools, and techniques of basic pre-apprenticeship construction and trade skills. Next, classroom instruction covers topics such as solar panel installation, building energy efficiency improvement, green construction techniques, and principles of ecology, sustainability and environmental justice. Finally, participants are placed into paid green collar internships for on-the-job training.

The training curriculum for the Corps is very hands-on to prepare the students to go into industry and be successful. The Green Jobs Corps is creating other benefits for its trainees as well, providing instruction that goes beyond the classroom to include customized life skills coaching, support services and job-readiness training. The goal is to view the training from the perspective of building whole careers not just creating jobs.

The Oakland Green Job Corps has grown since its initial launch; having received a community based job-training grant for $1.9 million from the federal Department of Labor, a State of California CALGRIP grant for $500,000, and a “Yahoo! For Good” grant of $150,000 to expand enrollment in Oakland. This has created opportunities for more businesses to participate.

The current state of the economy, however, has presented some challenges. The program administrators have learned that they need to be diligent about ensuring they are working with the right partners, including labor unions and PG&E (which provides industry certification critical to job placement). Furthermore it is important that the program be flexible and that the job market drives the training. For instance if a solid job opportunity becomes available prior to a student completing their training, that student may be pulled out early to take the job.

While the City of Oakland’s initial role in the Green Jobs Corps was providing funding it now focuses on promoting the program, and perhaps most importantly, implementing initiatives that grow demand for energy efficiency work in the community. The City expects to connect Green Job Corps graduates with jobs implementing the weatherization and energy efficiency measures included in its draft Energy and Climate Action Plan. According to Caz Pereira of Growth Sector “the success of the program depends on business, government and labor collaborating to ensure that the jobs are there. That is why continuing to work with the City is important, since public sector projects help move the job market.”

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