“No other city that I know of has convened a meeting like this,” expressed Andrew Moore of the National League of Cities, commenting on the DC Workforce Development and Green Jobs Roundtable that was created by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, in partnership with the Department of Energy and Environment and the National League of Cities, and sponsored by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. At the roundtable on October 24th, Moore encouraged the group of more than fifty attendees to identify the assets and gaps in the sector. Representatives from District government, non-profits, and the private sector were reminded of the task at hand by Director of the DC’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), Tommy Wells. The nation’s capital is taking steps to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and an entirely renewable energy portfolio standard by 2032. Over $30 million will be invested per year on efforts like green infrastructure and building retrofits, and the installation of solar panels. 

According to the Department of Employment Services unemployment rates in the December 2017 ranged from 3.2 and 12.8% between the district’s eight wards. Wards 5, 7, and 8 had the highest rates of unemployment. Jeff Seltzer, Director of the Water Quality Branch at DOEE connected these rates to disproportionate environmental burden in the same areas, highlighting “a nexus of where investment needs to be made and where unemployment is.” Seltzer’s comments were the perfect segue as the roundtable shifted into the bulk of the day’s discussion.

The roundtable featured three panels focusing on training programs, employers, and training alumni, respectively. The first panel on training programs responded to the question, “From your experience, what are the greatest opportunities to better fulfill the needs of your trainees and the parties that hired them?” Panelists emphasized the need for soft skills training, social and emotional support, and the maintenance of long-term support for participants for a year or more after the program ends. Dwayne Jones, of the University of the District of Columbia, recognized the need for employer training for companies or non-profits looking to hire training program graduates. When trainees are chronically unemployed, often times different skillsets are required to ensure that the new employee will be successful and remain employed long-term. The Latin American Youth Center’s Jacob Newman honed in on a related topic that was echoed throughout the day – social and emotional support for trainees. Many roundtable participants advocated for a holistic job training and employment approach that considers all needs of participants, from meals to transportation to access to mental health services. 

The second panel of the day featured employers who keenly expressed the need to create feelings of excitement and commitment to the field. Brian Rodgers of Constituent Services Worldwide advised employers to help their respective workforces relate to the work they are doing in terms they can understand. Ted Scott, co-owner of SMC, advocated for training programs to create a passion for the work because “skills sets can follow or be integrated later” by employers. That was exactly what happened for Raymond Coates, a graduate of the National Green Infrastructure Certification Program (NGICP). “[NGICP] gave me training to flesh out some of the things I was seeing in my neighborhood. I was already interested in clean air because my community suffers from a lot of respiratory problems. The program gave me a more rounded view of the impact but most importantly it gave me hope because it showed me that we could respond,” Coates shared. 

After the panels concluded, attendees formed breakout groups to reflect on the conversations of the day and to identify areas of opportunity for the future. One of the outcomes from the roundtable will be a comprehensive matrix of the green infrastructure, solar, and other green jobs training programs available in the District. The conversations held at the roundtable surely will not end there. When the need for large-scale environmental change is coupled with high unemployment rates in neighborhoods experiencing undue environmental burden, equitable employment through green jobs can solve a multitude of problems.