Dying Blue Collars Green
Youth and city councilors ally for green jobs training
By Skyler Swezy
It started with a survey asking several hundred of Albuquerque’s youth a straight question: “What concerns you?” Most common answer: the environment. Their answer has since spawned an alliance between a group of young people and four city councilors, pushing to pass legislation addressing their concern.
By continuing to attract companies like Schott Solar, a recent addition to the Mesa del Sol renewable energy cluster, Albuquerque appears poised to benefit from an explosion of eco-friendly commerce. This could create thousands of jobs. However, new industry requires new skills.
New Mexico Youth Organized (NMYO), the nonpartisan organization that conducted the survey, recognizes the potential opportunities a demand for green-collar workers will provide. The group aims to ensure Albuquerque’s youth have training and access. “Our economy is shifting from coal and uranium to one built on renewable and clean energy," says NMYO Director Keegan King. "Unless we consciously plan for it, this inevitable transition is going to leave out the people who have been left out before."
The group wants to work with those who’ve had barriers to employment, adds 27-year-old King. He’s talking about people coming out of the juvenile justice system or people who may not have done well in school but want a second chance.
NMYO spent the last five months working with the 1Sky campaign and City Councilors Debbie O’Malley, Rey Garduño, Michael Cadigan and Isaac Benton to create a Green Jobs Corps Training program in Albuquerque.
The initiative was announced at the May 19 City Council meeting. Around 20 members of NMYO donned green hard hats and yellow vests, taking the podium alongside city councilors who co-sponsored the Albuquerque Green Job Corps legislation.
The bill aims to develop funding streams for green jobs training programs. Such programs would provide a certified workforce for established and future green industries in Albuquerque, such as solar panel installation, sustainable agriculture and green building.
On June 10, a report commissioned by the McCune Charitable Foundation was released, analyzing data on the scale of Albuquerque’s green sector and its potential for growth in the next six to eight years.
The report, compiled by Jivan Lee, states that Albuquerque’s green economy employs between 6,850 and 14,650 people, adding that the green construction industry alone is projected to grow about 20 percent from 2004 to 2014.
The study recommends the city create a “green job pipeline” by offering access to educational programs and providing “supporting services sensitive to the needs and backgrounds of people of color and the economically disadvantaged.”
One of NMYO’s aims in creating the Green Jobs Corps Training program is to fight poverty and pollution by providing youth not only with eco-friendly jobs, but careers. “Someone could start with the installation of solar panels, then move to managing a crew or even manufacturing, creating a process where one can continue working up a career pathway,” says King.
Councilor O’Malley was attracted to the project by the enthusiasm of NMYO’s members and the chance to support a new job sector. “You don’t see this very often; a group of young people actively participating in their future and working to protect their environment,” O’Malley says.
She says the next month and a half will be spent refining and determining the scope of the pilot program based on the McCune Foundation’s Albuquerque study. The bill will likely go before the City Council in August. O’Malley is confident it will pass, “I genuinely believe the City Council is interested in supporting public policy that encourages new job sectors, and we want to be ready when these jobs become available.”
At the end of last year, NMYO volunteers surveyed several hundred young people on Albuquerque campuses, in communities, at hip-hop events and on Downtown streets on weekends, trying to determine what issues concerned them most.
NMYO started working on a green jobs initiative in late December, inspired by a program called “Green Jobs, Not Jails” created by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights based in Oakland, Calif.
NMYO Field Director Juan Reynosa, 26, explains, “Ella Baker’s director, Van Jones, saw a lot of environmental industries coming up and gaining ground.” Jones noticed many workers of color in low-income communities were stuck in “gray industries,” which pollute neighborhoods, Reynosa says. “He saw an opportunity in green industries, that there’s going to be a big need for a workforce. He wanted to couple that with the people who need jobs.” NMYO’s volunteers haven’t stopped surveying and say results show a large-scale desire for green jobs.
“Our folks are calling not only young people, but people of all ages, to find out if this is something they care about,” says King. “And yes, they do overwhelmingly support going green.”
While the green-jobs initiative is the main focus, NMYO members spend Saturday mornings canvasing neighborhoods and doing trash pickups in public parks, hoping to be a positive and recognized presence in Albuquerque communities.
On a recent Saturday morning, a retired school bus dubbed the “Bus for Change” chugs toward the Westside. Eight passengers, ranging in age from 17 to 27, each have a seat to themselves. A stack of clipboards fills the third seat of the bus.
NMYO volunteers will spend the next three hours knocking on doors in District 13, reminding people to vote in the June 3 primaries. They are not peddling promises for a candidate, rather providing information about when and where to vote.
The passengers chat while King and Lead Volunteer Organizer Cyrus Gould, 26, examine a map of the targeted neighborhood.
“Ahviahn and Amanda, this is your stop. Do you need any water?” Gould asks the two young ladies as they step into the sun.
Volunteer Bob Wilson, 24, exits carrying his longboard, planning to cruise from house to house. With clipboards in hand, the volunteers are dropped off on street corners until the bus is empty.
Three hours later, the volunteers back aboard the bus exchange tales about walking, knocking and talking with District 13 residents.
“I got a free tamale,” Amanda Manjarrez, 22, says with a grin.
“Some guy told me he’d only vote if Hillary won,” says Wilson, sharing a seat with his longboard.
“A few people said they had voted already,” says Ahviahn Wells, the youngest NMYO volunteer at 17 and a student at Valley High School.
Lauren Scott, 23, and Nate Todd, 22, recount running into state Sen. Linda Lopez.
“We asked her if she was going to vote,” Todd says, bringing chuckles from the other volunteers.
“That’s good, she knows we’re flexing in her hood,” says Gould.
New Mexico Youth Organized is at 1500 Lomas NW. Call 242-4036.
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