Greenlaurel: New City Stormwater Training Program Offers a Pathway to a Better Life

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Sean Williams, a participant in Civic Works’ Stormwater Management Technician Training program, shares his story at the program’s official launch. 

Sean Williams has come a long way. Soon, he’ll be learning how to build, maintain and inspect stormwater infrastructure for Baltimore as a trainee in Civic Works’ inaugural Stormwater Management Technician Training program. “It isn’t going to be easy right now, but what can you expect coming from the bottom up?” he said.

Williams’ “bottom” point included time behind bars. Now he’s on his way to working in a family-sustaining green career. Civic Works’ newest job training program is another positive example of something that works in Baltimore: collaboration between federal, state and city government agencies, nonprofits, foundations and private businesses.

Plugging the Skills Gap

The green infrastructure industry is growing rapidly. Solar jobs are eclipsing opportunities in oil and gas, wind energy is growing and municipalities like Baltimore are investing millions in stormwater runoff cleanup to mitigate the flow of pollutants into waterways.

But a skills gap remains, as many green employers in these growing fields report serious shortages of qualified workers.

With Baltimore City’s Department of Public Works (DPW) stormwater capital spending growing from $1 million in 2016 to $23 million in 2017, an opportunity emerged to kill two birds with one stone. The problems: Baltimore City and its partner stormwater employers need qualified workers, and Baltimore City residents need jobs.

The solution: Civic Works’ Baltimore Center for Green Careers. The center has developed a comprehensive training model that combines certifiable education, employer participation and — probably the most critical ingredient in the recipe — life skills.

The Stormwater Management Technician Training program is the Baltimore Center for Green Careers’ fourth on a growing list that also includes training in energy retrofitting, solar installations and brownfields hazmat remediation. Since 2003, the center has graduated more than 600 trainees.

The Baltimore Center for Green Careers’ brownfield remediation trainees mitigate hazardous materials. Caddyshack’s Carl Spackler would be jealous. 

“Our Stormwater Management Technician Training program was about four years in the making,” said Eli Allen, director of the center. “Working with DPW, employer partners and many others, we had to develop customized training that matched the stormwater job skills needed.”

The center co-developed its stormwater technician training curriculum with the nonprofit Center For Watershed Protection, and together the partners secured funding from government agencies, nonprofits and foundations. Allen expects the program to graduate 30 to 40 new stormwater technicians each year. The majority will have jobs lined up at graduation, he said.

Even better: these green infrastructure jobs earn family-sustaining salaries well above the minimum wage.

Job Retraining’s Secret Sauce?

“I was in jail for my last strike for a handgun charge,” Williams said. “I wasn’t perfect, but my judge saw that my mind had matured. She gave me a second chance to get a job or continue to be incarcerated.”

People who make poor life choices often encounter major obstacles later on to finding careers that pay well enough to support a family. Examples that show up during the hiring process: incarceration, child support issues, lack of credit, inconsistent housing, substance abuse and driver’s license suspensions.

To move trainees with these problems forward, the Baltimore Center for Green Careers’ programs combine education with job-readiness training and life coaching. The center has two licensed social workers on its staff who help trainees develop personal goals and other skills, and also help them navigate legal and financial issues. The center also links trainees who need legal help with the Maryland Volunteer Legal Service to solve those tricky issues. The nonprofit even offers a unique transportation savings match program — up to $1,000 — to help trainees save for their own wheels.

For Williams and his classmates, the center’s new stormwater training program may be a pathway to a better life.

Need a job, or know a job seeker? Check out Civic Works’ Baltimore Center for Green Careers here.

A collaboration of city and state agencies, nonprofits, foundations, and businesses make it happen!

Laurel Peltier
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