STAYING GREEN AND GROWING JOBS: Green Infrastructure Operations and Maintenance as Career Pathway Stepping Stones

Restoring the environment and developing youth: crew installing a rain garden

Restoring the environment and developing youth: crew installing a rain garden
Credit: Donald Tsusaki | Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay

The operations and maintenance (O&M) of green infrastructure represents a significant opportunity to create entry-level jobs in the green sector for individuals from disadvantaged communities.  In the coming years, thousands of new green infrastructure projects will be installed throughout the country. They will require a workforce trained to maintain and monitor the projects.  Green For All’s new report, Staying Green and Growing Jobs, reveals that water utilities investing in green infrastructure can outsource O&M work to workforce development programs that train individuals in green infrastructure – in fact, some already do.  Operations and maintenance work gives disadvantaged community members access to jobs and career on-ramps while performing the O&M work required by water utilities. 

Assessment of Operations and Maintenance Occupations 

The first section of this report reveals that O&M jobs are accessible, they provide a decent wage, and they offer career advancement opportunities, especially in the public sector.  At the same time, there is a real threat that this work may take place in low-road work environments, represented by low wages and poor benefits.  However, O&M occupations are being recognized as important on-ramps to career pathways in the water sustainability field. 

Workforce Development Programs Delivering Triple-Bottom Line Benefits 

The second section of this report profiles workforce development programs that are delivering the triple bottom line benefits that green infrastructure investments promise.  Their work demonstrates successful private/ public/ nonprofit partnerships that protect the environment, increase access to economic opportunities, and improve social conditions of disadvantaged groups.  These programs are successfully utilizing O&M work to provide employment to disadvantaged communities while training them for higher-skilled, higher-earning trades. 

Recommended Strategies 

The final section of the report makes three recommendations to stabilize workforce development programs through O&M work that will make them permanent components of the green infrastructure field:

  1. Generate opportunities for local workers and local businesses by inserting community benefits metrics into green infrastructure installation and maintenance contracts.
  2. Public agencies that outsource O&M responsibilities should prioritize contracting with local workforce development programs.
  3. Require the hiring of trained and certified contractors to install and maintain publically funded green infrastructure on private property.

This section also outlines a series of steps and areas of further research to strengthen workforce development programs and to solidify career pathways that lead to high quality work, high quality standards and good jobs.

American Rivers and Green for All collaborated to develop two companion reports exploring different elements of operations and maintenance of green infrastructure.  A companion report to this one titled, Staying Green: Strategies to Improve Operations and Maintenance of Green Infrastructure in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed highlights existing information related to costs of green infrastructure maintenance, identifies the significant barriers to effective operations and maintenance of these practices, recommends strategies to improve operations and maintenance, and provides resources and case studies that local governments can use as models.  Both reports are available on our web site.

Over the coming weeks we will feature workforce development organizations and social enterprises that are using green infrastructure operations and maintenance as career pathway stepping stones and link disadvantaged community members to green infrastructure jobs.  You can read more about these organizations here.

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