Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit


Workforce Development and Training Programs

Workforce development and training programs that connect residents to the tools and resources for green careers may be an effective approach to mitigate high levels of existing unemployment while building the foundation for economic resilience. One way to facilitate the growth of a resilient economy is to train workers living in or employed within a specific region in the clean energy sector – especially those workers that have been historically left out of the labor market. Green Collar Jobs, according to the Chicago Green Collar Jobs Initiative, are

“well-paid, career track jobs that contribute directly to preserving or enhancing environmental quality. Like traditional blue-collar jobs, green collar jobs range from low-skill, entry-level positions to high-skill, higher paid jobs, and include opportunities for advancement in both skills and wages. Green collar jobs tend to be local because many involve work transforming and upgrading the immediate built and natural environment – work such as retrofitting buildings, installing solar panels, constructing transit lines, and landscaping.’ They emphasize that ‘spurring the creation of green collar jobs…means building a sustainable economy, where environmental goals go hand in hand with social and economic goals.”See footnote 1 

A group of men and women in bright orange shirts and green hardhats stand outside on a hilltop smiling at the camera.
Graduates of the RichmondBUILD program
(Source: US Environmental Protection Agency)

Workforce training and development programs can encourage those seeking employment with a specific focus on green-collar jobs. To that end, hiring local workers for green-collar positions can help to advance economic resilience within the community. Employing individuals to update, modernize, and retrofit resilient infrastructure creates a more stable workforce, because employees may be able to return to work shortly after an extreme weather event. 

In other words, because there will be less of a delay in return to normalcy after a disaster event, the economy will likely (1) be able to recover more quickly from a shock; (2) be able to withstand at least some shocks; and (3) in some instances, avoid a shock altogether.See footnote 2 Ultimately, this can provide more job stability for the local workforce.

Considerations of Workforce Development and Training Programs for Economic Resilience


  • Funding can come from nonprofit organizations, private entities, and government resources.
  • Green-collar jobs are growing at an astronomical rate — by 2030, “there will be an estimated 40 million jobs in the growing renewable-energy and energy efficiency industries.”See footnote 3 Opportunities are continually opening for individuals looking to enter the field.
  • Green-collar positions also offer job security, due to the amount of training that is often required to enter into the field. “Clean energy companies want and need to retain employees who know what they’re doing and who they can rely upon.”See footnote 4 
  • A majority of green-collar positions involve place-based projects — such as solar panel installation, wind turbine development, and maintenance, etc. — which can provide stable employment opportunities in the communities where the projects are implemented.See footnote 5 


  • Green-collar jobs can include careers in a variety of sectors, including: engineering, financial planning/analysis, construction, science and research, education, masonry, software development, planning, utility operation, and more.
  • Examples of green-collar jobs include: installing solar panels, maintaining wind turbines, planting trees and vegetation, installing rain gardens, operating recycling plants, researching new and emerging renewable technologies, etc.


  •  “Workers in clean energy earn higher and more equitable wages when compared to all workers nationally.”See footnote 6 
  • Clean energy and green-collar jobs statistically pay higher than the national average wage. Even at the lower end of the income spectrum within the sector, employees make $5 to $10 more an hour than employees in other sectors.See footnote 7 


  • Historic inequalities have resulted in a lack of awareness regarding the benefits of green-collar jobs within frontline communities.
  • This lack of awareness can also extend to local business owners, who may be unaware of workforce training programs and their graduates.


  • Certain green-collar jobs, like the installation of solar panels and the operation and maintenance of green utilities, require adherence to local standards, regulations, and requirements.
  • Workforce training programs need to take these rules into account and train participants on how to adhere to sector/job-specific regulations.

Lessons Learned

  • Nonprofits, policymakers, or business owners seeking to implement a workforce development program should leverage funding and financing from several sources in both the public and private sectors. Oftentimes, full funding from a program will come from multiple sources. For example, in some of the case studies analyzed, government agencies have assisted in funding workforce development programs because they help to advance targets outlined in legislation such as Renewable Portfolio Standards.
  • Workforce development tools can be used in conjunction with hiring programs (see next policy option/tool) to encourage economic development within frontline communities.
  • Training in the green-collar field is often incredibly costly and time-consuming. As a result, disadvantaged communities and those without the financial resources to pay for training programs are often underrepresented in this field. To combat this inequity, training and workforce development programs should prioritize individuals from frontline communities for participation in the program.
  • Because of this historical lack of representation in the environmental sector, individuals from frontline communities are often unaware of the benefits that green-collar jobs can bring, including job security and living wage payments. Workforce development and training programs should initially focus on educating frontline communities about these benefits to attract participants.
  • The most successful workforce development programs offer training in a wide variety of sectors, including construction, waste removal, carpentry, masonry, and more. Providing education in a multitude of areas will help attract more program participants.
  • Workforce development programs can also offer hands-on training to implement climate adaptation strategies in some areas, such as solar panel installation and green infrastructure development that includes the care and maintenance of urban forestry to manage stormwater and reduce urban heat (see Natural Resilience Chapter). Providing this type of training advances a worker’s skill/education, and has the added benefit of providing retrofits to homes owned by community members that may not have otherwise been able to afford them.
  • Successful workforce training programs have close relationships and ties with local businesses. Through these relationships, graduates of the training programs are often fast-tracked to jobs with these businesses. Developing these types of relationships is vital to the success of a training program.


Related Resources

Chicago, Illinois Green Collar Jobs Initiative

The Chicago Green Collar Jobs Initiative is a program that assists those seeking jobs in the Chicagoland area, with an emphasis on resilient and equitable employment. Since its opening in 2002, the Initiative has focused its efforts on educating Chicagoland workers who have historically been left out of the labor market. Working with various partners — such as community colleges, government agencies, community-based organizations, and other groups — the Initiative published a report, Building a Green Collar Workforce in Chicagoland. The report establishes several recommendations for job seekers, policymakers, and other stakeholders that are seeking to join or facilitate a green, resilient economy staffed primarily by disadvantaged job seekers. The report breaks down the conclusions into strategies that can be undertaken by programs working to develop a green-collar economy, as well as processes policymakers and government agencies can champion to develop a green workforce with a focus on equitable employment. Among the suggested programs include hands-on training; standardized green training programs; and standardization of green weatherization processes.

Solar Works DC

In 2017, the District of Columbia’s Departments of Energy & Environment (DOEE) and Employment Services (DOES) partnered with GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic to start Solar Works DC to implement a low-income solar installation program with a job training component. The purpose of the program is to train frontline D.C. community members in solar installation and provide low-income families with solar energy systems. Over a three-year period, Solar Works DC has trained more than 200 individuals in solar-related industries, who have assisted with the installation and maintenance of 300 solar systems on low-income, single-family homes within the District.

RichmondBUILD Academy - City of Richmond, California

RichmondBUILD is a public-private partnership organization that works in Richmond, CA, to train individuals on developing the necessary talent and skill to join careers in the renewable energy or construction industries. RichmondBUILD has focused its efforts on recruiting participants from low-income households throughout the community. Since its launch in 2007, a majority of graduates of the workforce-training program have been minorities (90%), and it includes a large percentage of individuals who have a history with the justice system (30%). Since the program began in 2007, it has trained over 800 in the construction and renewable sectors. Over a period of sixteen weeks, participants are taught sector-specific skills in carpentry, waste removal, or green collar positions. The goals of the program are twofold: to reduce violence in the Richmond, CA community, and to create career opportunities that have the potential for upward advancement for underserved members of the area.

  Previous Next