The Michigan Citizen
While Michigan’s Governor and other state officials have spent time recently talking about the importance of preparing for the future job market, one local program is already placing skilled workers on the road from a pollution-based economy to a green one.
DWEJ (Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice) has developed Green Jobs Workforce Training Program, creating a skilled workforce that will in turn make Detroit more attractive to a brand new sector of industry, according to DWEJ Green Jobs director, Roshani Dantas.
“We think it’s key for Detroiters to be at the beginning of this green process,” Dantas told the Michigan Citizen. “Detroit is the place where this needs to happen.”
The program has its roots in a brownfield cleanup training program that DWEJ started in 1995.
The Green Jobs program now has the support and funding of the National Institute of Environmental Health Services, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It’s part of a consortium of urban environmental groups which includes the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice in New Orleans.
In its first year the DWEJ Green Jobs program accepted over 300 applications for a 13-week class that would only hold 25 members. This year the program will run two classes — interviews are already being conducted for the March session. A second class will be given in September.
The program stands out for targeting underemployed and unemployed Detroit residents.
Applicants are not required to hold a high school diploma or GED. Nor does DWEJ discriminate against residents with criminal backgrounds.Dantas says that the small class size is designed to give students a broad spectrum of tools and a generous amount of attention.
The 25 applicants who make it through the application and interview process essentially receive a scholarship which may include bus passes or parking vouchers, and catered breakfast and lunch daily.
“We want to remove any barriers that would get in the way of learning in the classroom,” Dantas says.
The curriculum itself starts with six weeks of basic math and reading skills, job readiness and life skills training, counseling and computer literacy. Students are also exposed to environmental justice issues.
“Our goal is not just to get them a job, but also make them complete advocates in the community,” Dantas says.
The second six weeks involve technical training associated with jobs in environmental clean up and remediation. Students receive state-certified training in asbestos and lead abatement, confined space entry, OSHA 10 workplace certification, HAZWOPER certification, and environmental site assessment.
A supplement to the program includes training in energy auditing, green landscaping, computer-aided design and geothermal technology.
The program also includes a comprehensive job placement component that includes input and training from potential employers themselves.
Kinnus Paul is the job developer and a recent graduate of the jobs training program. His mission is to seek out employers and market potential employees. He says that the Green Jobs’ focus on jobs skills in particular makes potential employees attractive to employers looking to the Detroit area.
Graduates like Grayling Owens, who spent six years in prison, have been the “star students in the program.” Owens now works in lead removal for B & A Environmental in Livonia.
Cedric Dicus, 25, is a graduate of last years’ inaugural class. He now cleans storage tanks and performs clean air testing for Birks Works Environmental in Detroit. He says that the wide range of training led immediately to a variety of job opportunities.
“I just hung in there,” Dicus told the Michigan Citizen. “In the end, we got a number of certifications.”
Roshani Dantas says that the first stages of the greening process involve addressing the aging infrastructure, abandoned properties and decades of environmental neglect. Her expansive background in studying how chemicals affect the community has led her to the conclusion that, “You have to clean up before you go green.”
She’ll be pressing that point and others when DWEJ presents its successful programs to the State Green Jobs Conference in May. The region and Detroit in particular have an opportunity to be at the forefront of a revolution in industry while employing the services of those that need the work the most.
Dantas says that as the demand for environmental remediation and gainful employment increases, DWEJ would like to offer up to 12 classes a year.
“This program is for the individuals that didn’t go to college but just need a chance,” Dantas insists.
“If you really know you can do this, than this is the program for you.”