Green economy means greenbacks for RichmondBUILD graduates

Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, left, addresses RichmondBUILD graduates Friday morning in Richmond. The program trains the unemployed in green technologies such as solar installation and energy efficient construction.

Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, left, addresses RichmondBUILD graduates Friday morning in Richmond. The program trains the unemployed in green technologies such as solar installation and energy efficient construction. "Once the mind is stretched it cannot go back to it's original form," said Newsom. "Your mind gets stretched by programs like this." (Photo by Tyler Orsburn)

Sixty-six graduates of the RichmondBUILD Green Careers Academy were awarded certificates of completion Friday morning at their training facility on 23rd Street. The green academy trains residents in energy-efficient home construction, hybrid automotive technologies, solar installation and environmental literacy.

California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom addressed the graduates and their family members and praised their decisions to positively alter their lives for their community and natural environment.

Newsom said that although California’s unemployment rate is the second-highest in the country and the green industry only accounts for 2.2 percent of the economy, the demand for green technology is on the rise. “These are things you have been trained to do,” Newsom said. “Which means we need you—the private sector is going to need to employ you. We need your skills and we need your experience.”

RichmondBUILD graduates listen to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's commencement speech Friday morning. (Photo by Tyler Orsburn)

Sal Vaca, the city’s director of employment and training, said the green careers academy has been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Labor for creating job opportunities for Richmond residents. “I am proud to say 10 of our graduates will not join us this morning because they’re [already] working,” said Vaca. “We look forward to the day we have graduation and we have no students here!”

According to RichmondBUILD’s press release, the green academy has achieved an 80 percent job placement rate for graduates with average starting wages of $18 per hour. Most hires come from local unions such as carpenters, laborers, ironworkers and asbestos, lead and mold laborers, said administrative secretary Demitrea Foster.

All of this almost came to a screeching halt for one of the three programs under the green academy. YouthBUILD, which focuses its efforts on 17 to 24-year-old high school drop-outs, was not refunded by the Department of Labor. The program activities were shut down effective June 30, 2011, which meant no more construction skills training, no more GED program, no more leadership development, no more community service and no more job placement.

When Vaca mentioned this to Councilmember Corky Booze, Booze contacted Chevron, and in early August the company granted YouthBUILD $100,000 to keep the program running for one more year. The check was officially presented to the public on Friday by Chevron representative Jay Peterson.

Booze placed the oversize check higher on the graduation stage to make sure everyone in the audience could see. “One hundred thousand dollars,” Booze said proudly. “That’s no chump change!”

Vaca said about 30 young people will be directly affected by the grant and will be able to continue their participation. “It’s incredible because it’s a population that urgently needs these types of services and programs,” he said. “It’s a great partnership between our City Council and Chevron to make this investment.”

Jose Maravilla, who graduated from a short-term program called Craft and EPA, said it taught him how to wire and trouble-shoot electrical problems in a house. “With my certificate this backs me up to get a better job,” Maravilla said, “and probably make a little bit more money.”

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said the city is considering a solar cooperative in which graduates of RichmondBUILD would be candidates to start those businesses. (Photo by Tyler Orsburn)

Craft and EPA is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and provides energy efficiency, solar installation and electrical training for unemployed residents with experience in the construction industry. The EPA side focuses on environmental cleanup training.

Carpentry and solar panel graduate Ken Smith said the 15-week program was perfect. “The program is great,” Smith said. “At least I can say this—I wasn’t doing too much about a year ago, but I’m a heck of a lot better where I am now.”

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said the graduates are doing Richmond proud and illustrate how the city can be a leader in the green economy. “You can be leaders in these hard times—for your families, for yourselves and for the city of Richmond,” she said to the graduates. “Other cities are going to take note—it’s a new society on the horizon.”

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