The global climate crisis has caused irreversible harm to the natural world and triggered a cascade of economic and public health problems. Unfortunately, people already struggling to get by disproportionately bear the burden of this catastrophe, enduring increased incidences of climate-related illness, greater risk of physical displacement, and higher energy costs. These same people are also likely to be stuck in cycles of unemployment or underemployment. Fortunately, in states like New York, cross-sector partners are coming together to address these issues.
Last year, Social Finance partnered with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to launch a multi-stakeholder clean energy training project to support the state’s ambitious climate goals. The project, which is supported by an $8.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and funded through the Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results Act (SIPPRA), will train more than 660 New Yorkers who identify as low-income, including youth and individuals experiencing long-term unemployment and underemployment, for careers in the clean energy sector. After completing their training, these individuals will gain access to higher-paying jobs and accelerate the state’s transition to a green economy.
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen highlighted the potential of the project when it was announced in March 2021.
“America is facing profound economic and climate crises. We’re still down nearly 10 million jobs from our pre-pandemic peak, and in addition, we’re living in a narrow window in which we can still avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change,” Yellen said. “The President has called on us to ‘seize the opportunity that climate change presents,’ and that’s what this grant does: it shows we can help workers and transition to a net-zero economy at the same time.”
How the NYSERDA green jobs partnership works
The Pay for Success Clean Energy Training project works like this: NYSERDA competitively selects and funds local workforce partners and community-based organizations to train New Yorkers from underserved communities on in-demand skills and industry-recognized credentials. These partners support each individual throughout their technical training and early employment by offering supportive services such as case management, transportation, career counseling, and job placement services. These workforce preparation activities and wraparound supports ensure that training is accessible to all New Yorkers, including those who are most impacted by climate change and income inequality.
“This is an extremely exciting initiative that will help eliminate barriers for those in disadvantaged communities who want to pursue careers in clean energy—whether it be offshore wind, clean heating and cooling, building electrification, or other new technologies,” NYSERDA President and CEO Doreen M. Harris said. “Our partnership with Social Finance serves as the first ‘pay for success’ training initiative funded through SIPPRA to help shore up the critical pipeline needed to support the green transition in New York State and beyond.”
If the project demonstrates meaningful impact on participants’ earnings, based on analysis from the third-party evaluator, MDRC, Treasury and DOL will reimburse NYSERDA up to $7.1 million, which can be further invested in clean energy workforce development.
To start, NYSERDA has competitively selected three partner organizations, the HOPE Program, Building Skills New York (BSNY), and Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC), to train 225 individuals for careers in high-efficiency HVAC and heat pumps over the next two years and place at least 80% into paid internships, apprenticeships, or full-time jobs.
New Yorkers from the first cohort of Pay for Success Clean Energy project trainees at BSNY show off their certifications.
“HOPE is honored to partner with NYSERDA and Social Finance on energy-efficient HVAC training, which prepares local New Yorkers for high-paying jobs and contributes to a more sustainable future,” Jennifer Mitchell, Executive Director of The HOPE Program, said.
Trainees are offered instruction based on nationally recognized HVAC credentials and curricula. These programs are delivered in partnership with multiple other NYC-based organizations, including SolarOne, an environmental education center; Positive Workforce, a minority construction advocacy group; and LaGuardia Community College.
“We are incredibly proud to launch the program with our partners,” BSNY Executive Director David Meade said. “Our students are learning critical HVAC skills that will be increasingly in demand as a result of state and federal clean energy investments and changes due to the Covid crisis. In addition, students learn about heat pumps and other cutting-edge clean technologies to prepare them for clean energy jobs.”
“We are in an unprecedented time for the creation of clean energy jobs coming into the Capital Region. Thousands of positions will become available just in wind turbine manufacturing alone. This opportunity extends into building systems and construction. The Grant will be transformational to build education pathways to these jobs for many who may not have had access previously,” said Penny Hill, Dean of Economic Development and Workforce Initiatives at HVCC.
Addressing the climate crisis and its related impacts will require convening public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders to think more expansively about linked social, economic, and environmental outcomes. This project is just one example of the kind of cross-sector innovation that is possible. Further investments in clean energy workforce development could involve other state partners, local government, philanthropies, and employers to improve economic mobility in low-income communities and ensure we have the qualified and diverse workforce needed to meet our nation’s own ambitious clean energy goals.