DOE Awards $100M for Smart Grid Job Training

DOE Awards $100M for Smart Grid Job Training

The Obama administration is awarding $100 million in Recovery Act funds for smart grid workforce training to prepare an estimated 30,000 Americans for the jobs that are expected to help transform the country's utility and electrical manufacturing industries.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steve Chu announced the funding today while visiting a Pepco engineering and service center in Rockville, Maryland. The center will get $4.4 million for a program to train some 700 new and existing employees.

The grant is one of 54 awards, ranging from about $82,000 to $5 million, that make up the $100 million in funding being distributed by the Department of Energy. The sum builds on more than $4 billion in earlier Recovery Act awards for smart grid deployment and demonstration projects.

"Building and operating smart grid infrastructure will put tens of thousands of Americans to work," Chu said in a prepared statement. "Today's investment will help ensure that we have the workforce in place to meet this need. This is a great opportunity for workers to upgrade their skills and earn more, or for laid-off workers from other industries to start fresh in a new and growing field."
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Almost $58 million will go toward programs to help existing employees update their skills, retrain displaced workers for new jobs and reintroduce military veterans to the civilian workforce. The balance is earmarked for devising new curricula and training programs to keep abreast of developments involving the smart grid and the electrical power sector. Utilities, manufacturers, colleges, universities, technical schools and training services were eligible for the funds.

The largest single grant was $5 million for a smart grid workforce training program at Pennsylvania State University. A full list of programs receiving funding (pdf) is available from the Department of Energy.

"These winners, across a multitude of states, represent collaborative efforts by utilities, universities, technical schools and manufacturers to educate craft employees as well as engineers," said Katherine Hamilton, president of the GridWise Alliance, a project to modernize the electric grid system in the U.S. "The alliance believes workforce education is a critical issue in implementing smart grid."

As training providers pored over the news about the grant recipients, a California nonprofit group offered a free online resource about green-collar job training in energy and other industries.

"Making Green Work: Best Practices in Green-Collar Job Training," is the green jobs guidebook compiled by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland. The resource, released this week, is designed for individuals and organizations interested in learning how to build a training program. It can also be used by anyone seeking green job training who wants to know what a good community program can provide.

More information about the guidebook and a free download of the resource are available at www.ellabakercenter.org/makinggreenwork/

In addition to best practices, the guidebook has a section that helps readers navigate the public policy that can affect green job programs. The book also includes case studies of seven California programs that have been praised for their work.

Among them is the RichmondBUILD/Solar Richmond program. The city of Richmond's 2-year-old pre-apprenticeship construction skills and green jobs training academy has just received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under its brownfields job training program.

The three-year Recovery Act grant will be used to provide training to 128 Richmond residents and place 102 graduates. Participants undergo 10 weeks of instruction that includes training in hazardous material operation, lead and asbestos abatement, mold remediation abatement, refinery safety, energy efficiency, solar technology/installation and electrician skills training, as well as pre-apprenticeship construction skills.

The Ella Baker Center and Oakland Apollo Alliance played leading roles in establishing the Oakland Green Job Corps, which in turn served as a model for the California Green Corps -- the program created by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to train at-risk young people for technical, construction and other skilled jobs in eco-friendly industries. The Oakland Green Job Corps is also profiled in the guidebook's case studies. Numerous queries to the program inspired its leaders to compile the guidebook.

Top image CC licensed by Flickr user Ian Muttoo.
Inset images courtesy of the Ella Baker Center.