GREEN BUILDING: 'Green-collar' training program gets stimulus boost
March 17th, 2009
Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
A program that trains low-income and at-risk young adults for residential construction jobs showed its "green collar" today on the National Mall, where more than 100 students and graduates worked on an energy-efficient demonstration house.
First lady Michelle Obama visited the YouthBuild U.S.A. site to tout $50 billion in the stimulus package for training workers in energy-efficient building skills.
"The work you've done to include green building is something that we're talking more and more about as a nation," Obama said. "It demonstrates how YouthBuild has endured as a nonprofit, by keeping up with the times and ensuring that the training and education you get is current."
YouthBuild founder and president Dorothy Stoneman looks on as first lady Michelle Obama speaks to YouthBuild participants, who were building an energy-efficient home today on the National Mall. Photo by Phil Taylor.
The energy-efficient house will be completed in Brownsville, Texas, and given to a mother of three, Merary Rios. The three-bedroom house will be a model for 85 other houses being built by the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who introduced legislation in 1992 that got YouthBuild its first federal appropriation, also visited to hail the program's "important leadership role in the greening of America."
"You've already done so much," Kerry said. "But you know you can do even more."
YouthBuild began in 1978 in East Harlem, New York City, and is funded in part by grants from the Department of Labor. Since 1994, more than 84,000 YouthBuild students have built more than 18,000 housing units. The $50 million stimulus boost for the program comes on top of $70 million already sent by the federal government this year.
With a budding market for energy-efficient homes, the program is focusing more on green projects, such as community and rooftop gardens, recycled wood products and sustainable insulation.
Green homes built by YouthBuild students use "bloom" insulation made from recycled newspapers and treated with a borate solution, said Ted Roan, a project manager. The material is both less expensive than conventional fiberglass insulation and fire and insect resistant.
Roan said YouthBuild focuses on teaching simple techniques that will save energy and make the students more valuable to employers. He said YouthBuild houses consume 40 percent less energy than comparable, commercially built homes.
At the "green academy" tent on the mall, Jeff Fowler gave demonstrations in home solar systems. Fowler, a solar consultant from Massachusetts, gives two-day workshops to YouthBuild trainers throughout the year. With about 50 hours of classroom and hands-on training, he said, students can be ready for entry-level solar installation jobs.
Richard Halpin, executive director of Casa Verde in Austin, Texas, one of more than 200 building companies affiliated with YouthBuild, spoke to the students about wages in the solar industry. Solar fabrication technicians make about $23,000 a year, and system installers make $31,000, he said.
"You guys have the skills that will let you lead in the new green construction industry," Halpin told the students. "There's a whole list of jobs you could get."
Like many YouthBuild students, Ely Flores, 22, had been kicked out of school and was involved with gangs in South Central Los Angeles. He earned his GED from LA CAUSA YouthBuild in Los Angeles.
Flores now works for GRID Alternatives, a solar consulting company in Oakland, Calif. He lobbies city governments to develop policies that will make solar more affordable to low-income families.
"A lot of people from under-resourced communities want to do something for the environment, but it's always too expensive," Flores said. "This is important to all of us. It shouldn't be a privileged thing."