By Deborah Alexander of LISC Chicago’s New Communities Program
Residents of four New Communities Program (NCP) neighborhoods completed training for entry-level, green-collar jobs earlier this summer under a pilot program launched at the Local Economic Employment Development (LEED) Council.
The 27 residents, referred by NCP lead agencies Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp., Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance and Claretian Associates of South Chicago, enrolled in the five-week training program to learn weatherization skills.
The LEED Council — a nonprofit CDC serving businesses in the North River Industrial Corridor from Milwaukee Avenue, Kinzie and DesPlaines (southeast) to Belmont Avenue and the Kennedy Expressway (northwest) — provided the curriculum and training in its building at 1866 N. Marcey St. LISC/Chicago provided funding through NCP.
President Obama has said that for the U.S. to truly transform the economy, protect our security and save the environment from the ravages of climate change, the country needs profitable and renewable sources of energy – a green economy – to be competitive.
Weatherization is one of the fastest-growing segments of the green economy, offering career opportunities in protecting the interiors of single and multi-family buildings, building maintenance and property management, and jobs in energy efficiency with additional training and education, said Margie Gonwa, LEED director of workforce development.
“We want to prepare people with good skills,” she said.
“This field is really going to explode,” said Dennis Rennie, LEED skills trainer. “A lot of what people learn here will become mandatory by the government. The Obama administration is pushing real hard to get things rolling. This will create jobs, lots of jobs.”
Hoping for Explosion
That’s what Juan Martinez of South Chicago is hoping. Martinez currently does not have permanent employment and is working side jobs in construction as a day laborer.
The 27-year-old said participating in the training program offers “the opportunity to be informed and gain more job skills.” He will take the knowledge he learns from the program and use it with his 15 years of experience in construction to make his next job better and smarter. “I like to do things the right way and by the book,” he said.
Carmika Young, also of South Chicago and unemployed, had no construction experience and knew nothing about weatherization prior to the program.
“But it sounds like a good program,” said the 27-year-old. “I’m always up for learning new stuff. I figured I could do this. And it will be helpful for the community, that’s another plus.”
The pilot program fits into LISC/Chicago’s goal to build sustainable communities, which includes fostering a livable, safe and healthy environment.
One of the program’s goals, said Gonwa, is to prepare a pool of people who would take the results of an energy audit and implement a work plan. This could include adding insulation to an attic and applying caulking and weather stripping to doors and windows. In an extreme situation the people in the program would replace windows, she said.
The program combines classroom instruction in math, measurement and energy efficiency principles with hands-on, workshop-based training in carpentry, house sealing and mechanical systems. Jobs as energy auditors require higher levels of job training, said Gonwa, adding that another program goal is to prepare people for jobs beyond weatherization.
Beyond the nuts-and-bolts of weatherization, the LEED Council hopes to impart a broader sense of energy conservation-related issues.
The training program included field trips to home improvement stores like Home Depot to check out weatherization materials and different window types. Program participants visited homes to observe a weatherization in progress — or to do the actual work themselves.
A Broader Vision
In addition to the field trips, the LEED Council building has a mock up of a house for participants to get hands-on experience installing insulation or caulking.
“We don’t want to train people for a task – to caulk a window or nail a door sweep,” Gonwa said. “We want them to have a more conceptual framework about how energy efficiency affects people, a building and the planet. We want people to learn the effects of the task they are doing.”
Gonwa said with the advent of the assembly line in the manufacturing industry, people were taught to do one task. Workers in the auto industry, for example, learned to install windows in a car while another group of workers installed the hood.
The LEED Council envisions a different approach for the 21st Century. “We want to make this training as a foundation to move around in the energy efficiency field,” she said.
Program participant Alanda Turner has watched a lot of the construction on Chicago’s West Side through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Turner, 41, of East Garfield Park, said the skills she learned would be put to good use as she helps her father, who owns property, renovate his buildings, and in her work with the non-profit Community Male Empowerment Project.
Burke Greenwood, an architect from Logan Square, entered the program because of his interest in community growth. The 36-year-old said he will use the skills he acquires to rehab existing housing as well as work with new construction.
“This [the training] will make sure housing is built right and energy efficient,” Greenwood said.
For Terrence James of Auburn-Gresham, the program is an opportunity to build up his resume and skills. The 38-year-old is an ex-offender who was released from prison after serving 17 years. James has experience in landscaping, volunteer work, planted flowers and demolition. He sees the program as a way to “get into my own business of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and self-growth.”
The LEED Council is assisting graduates with job placement. Gonwa said the pilot program is testing out the curriculum, the program design and partnerships. Once the pilot is completed, there will be a review and revisions.
“We want to be ahead of the curve to develop, revise curriculum and align ourselves with different entities which are going to get weatherization money,” she said. “Other agencies do energy weatherization training just as we do this pilot.”
The LEED Council also will identify and set up meetings with contractors who are expected to do weatherization for the City of Chicago, Chicago Housing Authority, and the Community of Economic Development Association (CEDA) of Cook County.
In addition, the agency will look at other employers who don’t do government work, such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning companies, as well as home retrofitting and weatherization businesses.
“We would like to implement this as a permanent course starting in the fall,” Gonwa said. “We need funding and we need employer relationships beyond the course.”