Urban Institute urges good, green jobs through equity lens

The Urban Institute calls for wider cooperation across sectors to solve multiple, intersecting problems in tandem

The Urban Institute report cites a range of “strategies and capacities” communities will need to ensure equitable access to climate infrastructure jobs, beginning with an strong grasp of data. Duke Energy photo.

This article was published by The Energy Mix on May 15, 2024.

By Gaye Taylor

An unswerving commitment to equity, a sharp focus on quality jobs, and much more cross-sector collaboration will be needed to ensure the energy transition is both rapid and just, concludes a new report by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute.

The report addresses what its authors see as the fundamental gap between dollars and deliverables in the Biden administration’s ongoing efforts to “not only repair and refurbish aging infrastructure, but to achieve multiple goals for climate resilience, job creation, and equity.”

While the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) represent “unprecedented investments” in good, green job creation, neither measure focuses sufficiently on workforce development, the Urban Institute (UI) says.

Itself the product of intensive collaboration with national, regional, and local experts, the 60-page “Equitable Access to Quality Climate Infrastructure Jobs: A Framework for Collaborative Action” is meant to help non-profit, public, and private sector organizations connect climate infrastructure and work force development, “two primary ecosystems” that typically work independent of each other.

“The UI report’s recommendations are highly relevant for Canada, particularly the call for more cross-sector collaboration to support the integration of work force development and climate infrastructure jobs in ways that prioritize equity,” Laura Schnurr, director of climate transitions at the Tamarack Institute, told The Energy Mix.

“Place-based, community-wide efforts offer meaningful leadership opportunities for equity-deserving groups, allow for flexible and innovative responses that fit the unique nature of distinct communities, and facilitate efforts to ‘multi-solve’ across a range of issues,” Schnurr added.

Equity First

The UI report says the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was a big failure through an equity lens, with African American communities “experiencing disparities in access to resources,” few women participating in green jobs training, and “job creation gains from green stimulus funds accruing to wealthier areas where the work force already possessed higher levels of applicable skills, while blue collar workers who made employment gains in the green economy were left with suppressed wages.”

The reality is that “not all jobs stemming from climate infrastructure investments are expected to be good jobs, and job quality varies for sector,” the report adds, citing a 2024 analysis. “More good jobs are expected in the energy efficiency and renewable energy sector and fewer good jobs are expected in green construction occupations.”

The institute calls for wider cooperation across sectors to solve multiple, intersecting problems in tandem, adding that funding agencies can play a role in making it happen. “The overlapping challenges of climate change and economic inequality demand collective actions by multiple organizations that traditionally have not worked together,” the report says. But “policy and funding silos further impede progress toward climate resilience and expanding access to green jobs.”

Local governments will be indispensable in helping to bridge gaps and break down silos, from “braiding together funding” to transforming infrastructure procurement by “expanding access to contractors from historically marginalized groups and promoting apprenticeships and training opportunities for emerging green jobs.”

Non-profits and community-based organizations, especially those already working at the intersections between climate resilience, work force development, and equity, will also be key “green intermediaries”, as will community colleges and local work force development organizations.

Businesses in climate infrastructure sectors, including utilities, public works, construction, energy, and transportation, are positioned to be ideal “convenors”, the Urban Institute says. “They help inform market projections of the supply and demand for green jobs and skills, partner with education and work force training institutions and with unions to provide training, offer training directly, and hire or promote workers for emerging jobs.”

Small, local businesses will also “play critical roles incubating equitable pathways for green jobs and careers.” And “although unions have historically been predominately white and male, projected retirements in climate infrastructure jobs mean that unions are important partners in efforts to improve access to high quality jobs for historically marginalized populations.”

Building Capacity

The UI report cites a range of “strategies and capacities” communities will need to ensure equitable access to climate infrastructure jobs, beginning with an excellent grasp of data—something that is currently lacking under both the IIJA and the IRA in the U.S.

“Both have goals around the creation of quality jobs with estimates ranging from the thousands to the millions,” UI writes, but “they lack specific information on the types of jobs, compensation levels, and where jobs would emerge,” in what amounts to an “analytic” requirement that isn’t being met.

“What we don’t have yet is, I want to be able to show work force development folks in states exactly or a reasonable estimate of which sectors this federal investment is going to flow into in their state, so that they can plan appropriately,” said the U.S. BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labour unions and environmental organizations.

Community involvement is the other essential element. UI cites the success of ReImagine Appalachia, whose blueprint for investments in the Ohio River Valley region were “generated  by convening virtually for two days of listening sessions with community racial justice advocates, union leaders, environmental groups, researchers, and others.” The plan now has buy-in from “over 50 organizations that represent the voices of residents in the region and various sectors, including Black Women Rising, Concerned Ohio River Residents, and the Evangelical Environmental Network.”

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