New report highlights cities’ successes in creating jobs through climate-friendly retrofits of existing buildings

“In the shelter I was staying at – that’s where I saw the flyer that said in big bold letters: Build A Life That Works”, said Ayesca Machado. She is one of hundreds of people who have participated in Boston’s Building Pathways programme, an initiative that trains and connects traditionally underserved communities with opportunities in the building and construction industry. “When I read and saw that they were actually recruiting women for construction, I was very happy.”  

As the green economy gains momentum across the United States and the world, cities are seeing an increasing need – and opportunity- to train a workforce ready to help deliver the city’s climate, equity, and economic development goals. 

In Seattle, Yaharia Garcia joined the Green New Deal apprenticeship programme. “I didn’t go to college and I wanted a job that helped people”, Yaharia shared. “I got enrolled and fell in love with carpentry… Now, I get to build schools for kids. The school we’re building has solar panels – so it’s better for the environment”.

Yaharia’s experience in Seattle’s Green New Deal programme and Ayesca’s in Boston’s Buildings Pathway are just some of the examples highlighted in a new report from C40 Cities and the National League of Cities on how cities can build a workforce to meet the anticipated need for building retrofit programmes in the coming years. 

Cities prepare for the green building economy 

Across the country, cities have launched innovative programmes to support a climate-friendly building boom. To improve safety for residents, reduce energy bills, and meet pollution reduction goals, cities are increasingly looking to retrofit existing buildings to remove fossil fuels and use less energy. These projects, such as improving insulation, installing new windows, and replacing heating and cooling systems, require a skilled workforce with unique knowledge, creating a pathway for new jobs in the green construction industry.

Mayors are working with community colleges, community groups, labour unions, and nonprofits to train workers in their cities for the new green economy, and are ensuring that the jobs created are well-paying and accessible to underrepresented communities. Strategies city leaders are taking include leading by example by retrofitting municipal buildings, launching job training and apprenticeship programmes, engaging with marginalised communities to remove barriers to job access, and shaping local plans and policies to support the workforce needs.  

Research has shown that there has been a 50% increase in green jobs since 2019 in the US, and the Inflation Reduction Act alone is projected to create an average of 912,000 jobs per year over the next decade. d. According to a 2023 U.S. Energy and Employment Report, every state saw an increase in clean energy jobs, a sector which grew faster than overall U.S. employment. At the same time, the Department of Energy also found that 62% of employers in the energy sector struggle to hire workers — especially for construction positions.

A new report, from C40 and the National League of Cities, How U.S. cities can grow the workforce needed for building retrofits, helps cities meet the moment and connect residents with jobs to help the local built environment be healthier, safer, more energy efficient, and more climate-friendly. The report identified the range of jobs in building retrofits, including construction, electricians, solar panel installers, heating and cooling mechanics, and more. 

Laura Jay, Regional Director for North America at C40 Cities, said: “The opportunities created by the green economy for job growth are immense. Retrofitting existing buildings improves lives for residents, reduces carbon emissions, and creates economic prosperity for workers – especially those who have been historically marginalised in the sector. It’s exciting to see mayors across the country launching programmes that ensure good, green jobs in their cities. Cities are taking advantage of federal funding, and taking action to turn the promise of a green economy into reality.”  

David Sander, President of the National League of Cities, said: “Cities are laboratories for innovation in the United States. Local leaders are working hard every day to find new ways to meet the needs of their communities, create jobs, and improve the quality of life. Supporting the growth of the building retrofit industry – and ensuring it is diverse, accessible, and pays good wages – will help communities large and small prepare for the challenges of the future.”:

Click on the cities below to read case studies:

Boston’s Building Pathways – Pre-Apprenticeship Programme was started in 2011 as a partnership between the Greater Boston Building Trades Unions and the Boston Housing Authority. The programme was created to ensure that Boston had a highly trained and diverse workforce for a major energy retrofit of 13 public housing properties.

Building Pathways workforce development participants receive employability and occupational skills training to prepare them to enter into a building trades apprenticeship programme, including those engaged in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The programme prioritises unemployed and underemployed Bostonians, recruiting from the same recruiting from the same public housing that they would be working on, as well as from other underserved communities.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said, “Advancing our city’s climate goals begins with opening doors of work for those who need it, and working together to ensure that these workers are trained for their lines of work. I am immensely proud of the Building Pathways programme graduates, who are proving that they can make a difference in their communities while having the opportunity to work. The future of Boston is bright, and we are working to ensure that everybody can both experience the city’s future and see their hand in it.”

In 2016, the City of Philadelphia launched the Rebuild programme, a plan to use municipal bonds and a new tax on sugary beverages to renovate and upgrade libraries, schools, and recreation centres. To bolster workforce development diversity and economic opportunity efforts, Rebuild worked closely with the Building Trades, setting up a programme that included apprenticeships for historically disadvantaged populations. The scale of the programme allowed the City to encourage the building trades to create permanent jobs for BIPOC apprentices. As of 2023, 94 Philadelphians (30% women; 96% people of colour) graduated from the Rebuild Workforce Development training programme. From those graduates, 76% were accepted into union apprenticeships at 7 different union trades or found other full-time work in the construction industry.

Austin’s green job strategy report was released in 2022 and holistically examines Austin’s green economy and how to expand jobs in that sector. The report found that green jobs have grown “significantly faster than overall employment both nationally and in the Austin region.” To ensure that environmental justice communities benefited from these green jobs, the City of Austin, in collaboration with the University of Texas worked to engage historically marginalised groups during the city’s net-zero planning process resulting in the inclusion of anti-displacement strategies, affordable housing construction goals, and funding for green job workforce development. These policies also resulted in a Green Workforce Accelerator, which conducts needs assessments, a sector-specific training accelerator, and post-programme data collection to get low-income residents in long-term green jobs.

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said, “I’m always looking for opportunities to grow our local economy and keep Austin on a path for a stronger, safer future. The Green Workforce Accelerator is a vital part of our local strategy to create jobs, and create a greener and healthier city for our residents. We don’t have to pick between our climate and our economy. Preparing the workforce for a transition to the green economy means benefits for every worker, every resident, and every community in Austin.”

After the pandemic, the City of Charlotte invested $500,000 of its CARES Act money to refocus the PIECE Project into a green jobs workforce development programme called the Renewable Energy and Efficiency Workforce (RENEW) Programme. This was the result of a collaboration between Charlotte’s Economic Development Department and the Office of Sustainability and Resilience.

Today, RENEW offers cohort participants a paid 13-week training programme in basic HVAC with an emphasis on energy efficiency. At the culmination of the training, participants also receive EPA 608 and HVAC Green Industry Certifications as well as a required OSHA certification.

The programme also focuses on the soft skills needed to succeed in the workplace and advance in careers in the energy efficiency field. Even though Charlotte RENEW is administered by the city government, industry partners are consistently engaged to ensure that good green jobs are awaiting participants once they complete their training. At the end of each cohort, Charlotte RENEW, the Goodwill and the Urban League host a job fair with businesses that either solely focus on HVAC or need labour with HVAC-related skills. This engagement has led to strategic partnerships with organisations such as Habitat for Humanity, where Habitat staff will conduct training and hire participants to install heat pumps on Habitat for Humanity projects

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