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The green economy is leaving marginalized workers behind. One organization is trying to change that

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Ann Thompson
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ALISTER THORPE/Wikimedia Commons

The green economy is moving at lightening speed and experts say there will soon be a gap between the large number of jobs available and the people who are trained to do them. Experts say marginalized communities are being left out of the conversation and could be re-skilled to do the work.

The Clean Energy Leadership Institute writes on Medium how “African American workers are underrepresented across all energy technology sectors with the proportion of these workers falling 2-5 percentage points lower than the national average. In the solar and wind sectors specifically, African American workers only account for 8 percent of the labor force.”

The Atlantic reports "The Green Economy Doesn’t Have to Leave Communities of Color Behind" because they “disproportionately bear the brunt of pollution and environmental degradation and increased participation in the green economy can help these communities enjoy the benefits of cleaner neighborhoods.”

Cincinnati futurist Marvin Dejean, CEO of Gilead Sanders, says, “There’s going to be a crunch and there’s going to be a reckoning. Either organizations are going to have to pick up the pace and re-skill faster or we’re going to see a big gap.”

He says governments, universities and organizations must work together. He points to Europe.

A new report from RAND, Europe Green Jobs and skills development for disadvantaged groups, says, “disadvantaged groups risk being left behind ... unless local leaders take concerted action to make sure such job opportunities are more inclusive.”

This is especially important, RAND points out, with the UK aiming for 250,000 new green jobs by 2030, and France aiming for 540,000 by 2030 and 1 million by 2050.

Dejean says some states are making progress. “California is ahead of the game. We’re starting to see that with moving marginalized communities toward more green jobs. Even in Ohio with the EV market and the eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) market.”

The futurist cautions it’s going to take a national movement to get people to start moving.

There is a bright spot in Cincinnati

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One Cincinnati organization working to train youth is Groundwork Ohio River Valley. Co-Executive Director Tanner Yess focuses on ages 14 to 26 in low-income communities by giving people of color environmental jobs. He says governmental funding helps pay for this program in underserved communities.

“It’s really significant because this is a program supported by the city and the mayor to say, ‘Let’s not leave behind our kids, especially our city kids, as it related to green opportunities,' " says Yess.

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The organization gets them prepared for the green economy. Says Yess, “Youth are designing and building green infrastructure like street trees, like rain gardens that will capture stormwater but also (are) aesthetically pleasing, and urban agriculture.”

This Cincinnati organization is part of the Groundwork USA Network and one of the nation’s largest youth green workforce employment programs focusing on youth and young adults of color.

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Ann Thompson has years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology