Building a green jobs workforce

Last month the first graduation of Memphis Clean and Green Job Training celebrated more than 20 unemployed or under-employed Memphians who received training and certification through an EPA-funded program at Memphis Bioworks Foundation. The free program is creatively filling a workforce gap, converting the unemployed into a skilled green labor force.
Memphis Bioworks Foundation, an organization focused on creating companies, jobs and investments in bioscience, is offering free environmental education and certifications through their new Memphis Clean and Green Job Training Program. This training is made possible by a three-year grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Dana Dorsey, the Job Training Manager at Memphis Bioworks, said, “The main goal is to address environmental issues and disparities within our city.” The Foundation aims to fight blight and to aid in making safer, healthier communities for the city of Memphis. The program is also aligned with the Memphis Clean and Green Initiative created by Mayor Wharton in 2012, which works to make 650 municipal buildings more energy efficient.

Over a period of three years, the EPA grant will allow Bioworks to train 75 unemployed or underemployed Memphians for environmental positions in the city. The training will be split into three separate cohorts that last three weeks, with 25 people being allowed into each cohort.

The first cohort ended in late June, since then several of the graduates have been offered positions in environmental fields. The program trains participants for five specific occupations: environmental technician, emergency response technician, energy auditor, abatement specialist, and construction.
Glenn Brown graduated from the program and is now employed as an emergency response technician
One of the graduates, Glenn Brown, was able to find a position as an emergency response technician. He said that the driving force behind his efforts to go through the program were his four children. “Everything I do, I do to make their lives easier and better for when they grow up,” Brown said. “It will put me in a better place to offer my kids a successful life. I’m just putting myself in a position to plan for their futures.”

The program can be very difficult on the participants, according to Dorsey. It is three weeks of training, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and they are expected to be there every day. “Their determination, discipline, and persistence in pursuing this goal is amazing,” said Dorsey. “Life goes on and they aren’t earning anything sitting there. It pushes me, it drives me. It’s my passion to serve and to be what I have to be to ensure that they achieve their goals and obtain what they are there to do.”

Brown knew in advance that he would need those three weeks to really focus on the training, he said that he prepared himself for the financial difficulty by saving up and cutting a lot of expenses. “I knew what my priorities would be and I knew that I would need to be completely dedicated to this program.” Brown said he is happy that he did that because his hard work paid off. “It’s worth the sacrifice, anything that you really want to do you’re going to have to work for it.”

Another graduate, Flora Ingram, is a mother of eight and grandmother of five. She was working full-time for a construction company before she was laid off. She said she did the program in order to pursue a career path where she would have more of a future. “These certifications will help me to obtain a position where I have some stability as opposed to me taking a job here and a job there.” Ingram is currently working on her resume and searching for a position that is right for her, and she feels like her chances of getting a job are very good because of all the certifications she received during the training period.

Ingram is also excited about her future career because she wants to do something she is passionate about. “I know that once I get into the position that is right for me, I’m going to love my job because it’s going to be something I enjoy doing, not just going to a job because I need the money,” she said. “That’s what this program did for me, because this is a field that I care about.”

Several of the participants held part-time jobs and worked at night during the training so that they could still provide for their families. One man in the program was doing the training 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then going to work from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. in order to get the education he needed and pay his bills. Dorsey said the dedication was amazing, seeing how people were so intent on improving their employment situations.

One major selling point of the training program is the fact that it is completely free; the EPA grant allows Memphis Bioworks to cover all of the materials. The no-cost aspect of the program made it 100 percent easier according to Ingram, who was also able to put her children into the summer camp offered by Hollywood community center where the training was held.
Flora Ingram is a graduate of the program who is focused on finding a stable career path
According to Dorsey, this program is perfect for Memphis because there is a huge need for these kinds of jobs in the economy. “With this training we’ll have a healthier city, a more vibrant city, a city filled with skilled workers that can help to attract more environmental jobs,” she said. “We want to attract more individuals to move here and to realize that we are environmentally conscious and aware, and that we are socially sensitive to these issues.”

Dorsey said there are multiple organizations and companies currently in Memphis who need workers with these skills, and she is working with several to find positions for the other graduates of the Memphis Clean and Green Job Training Program. “It keeps me up at night, I want those graduates in jobs now,” said Dorsey.

One thing in particular that Dorsey really believes in is aiding in workforce development in Memphis. “We want our employers to hire from within this city. We have qualified, eligible candidates that are ready and trained for exactly what is needed,” she said.

The next cohort will begin in late October, until then Dorsey said she will be working to get graduates into jobs.

High Ground's coverage of community sustainability efforts is made possible by Memphis Light, Gas and Water.

Read more articles by Lauren Turner.

Lauren Turner is a native Memphian and journalism graduate student at the University of Memphis. She is passionate about her city and the people who inhabit it. 
Signup for Email Alerts