Creating Equitable Pathways to Green Jobs in Austin, TX

Daniel Culotta
Oct 11, 2019 · 5 min read
Solar installers inspecting solar panels
Solar installers inspecting solar panels

Austin, Texas is one of the best places in the country to live, but it’s also a city where making ends meet is getting tougher and tougher. Cost of living is rising rapidly, wages are flat, and displacement pressure is higher than ever. At the City’s Office of Innovation, we’re looking for ways to help residents increase agency in their housing choices, instead of having those decisions forced by factors outside of their control.

One of the pathways to housing stability and economic security is access to green jobs. Green jobs are ones that result in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. And it’s a sector that’s growing quickly, pays well, and is sorely needed considering the increasingly serious effects of climate change, and our City’s focus on climate resilience. Programs in other cities have improved equitable access to green jobs, and we want to create similar pathways in Austin.

In order to catalyze action in this space, The City’s Innovation Office, Equity Office, Sustainability Office, and Economic Development Department have joined together to create the Equitable Green Jobs Grant program.

Why Austin Needs Green Jobs

Why focus on green jobs? The effects of climate change are negatively impacting where and how we live, work, play, and learn. But it’s important to note that climate hazards do not impact everyone equally. Austin’s most vulnerable and underserved communities are disproportionately affected due to historic underinvestment, limited resources, growth pressures, health inequities, and low paying jobs.

Yet, we can make opportunities out of constraints. Brookings Institute researchers found that mean hourly wages in green energy sector jobs are anywhere from 8 to 19 percent higher than the national average wage. And for entry-level jobs in this same sector, they find a $5 to $10 per hour pay premium compared to other entry-level jobs.

Equitable access to higher paying jobs in the green sector can lead to positive outcomes now and in the future. In addition to increasing household financial resilience and community-wide climate resilience, we can take another step towards racial equity — the condition when race no longer predicts a person’s quality-of-life outcomes in our community.

Why Green Jobs Need Equitable Access

So why the focus on equity? The reality is that stark economic inequities persist amongst racial groups in Austin. Therefore, the population we’re focusing on for equitable access to green jobs is defined by individual income levels and race so that we might help eradicate these disparities.

With regard to income levels, we designed this grant program to focus on people making up to 200% of the federal poverty level. This level tracks to several measures that indicate vulnerability of the working poor who might experience displacement in a city with high growth and rapid gentrification.

Furthermore, the City recognizes that race is the primary determinant of social equity. Specific populations that we focus on in this program include youth of color ages 16–24, and adults who want to transition from low-wage jobs into higher paying green jobs, from communities identified on the maps below.

Austin zip codes that the grant program focuses on.
Austin zip codes that the grant program focuses on.
Austin zip codes where 20% or more of the population makes 200% or less of the federal poverty level
Image for post
Image for post
Number of people in each census tract in the grant focus area that make 200% or less of the federal poverty level

Learn by Doing

The grant program will research and design ways to close the gap on green job workforce development approaches for communities of color while stimulating the number of organizations discussing equitable pathways to green jobs. It’s also designed to ignite partnerships between trusted community-based organizations, employers, and training/education institutions.

We hope to learn:

  1. How to close the gap on workforce development approaches for communities of color: Communities of color have suffered from low rates of workforce program completion and successful job placement. This may be due to a stigma against certain jobs, a daunting lack of diversity in hiring organizations, or inadvertent exclusion through lack of cultural competence and humility. How might we create a blueprint for the Austin community that is researched based on lived experience?

Our First Cohort

We were impressed by the strength and number of responses we received for the grant program. Our three awardees and their partners show a strong potential to help us learn more about green jobs and workforce development in Austin, while directly connecting residents with training and high-income career opportunities. Meet our first cohort:

EcoRise will pilot a program to prepare AISD high school students to obtain the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED GA certification, and gain professional experiences in the architecture and green building fields through an internship program with the UT School of Architecture and BLGY Architecture.

Central South Carpenters Regional Council is partnering with American Youthworks, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 520, and local employers to create a pilot program which provides young people in east Austin the training, certifications, and experience required to become professionals in the renewable energy and green building sectors.

Solar Austin is partnering with Huston-Tillotson University to pilot a new clean energy jobs internship program that will provide women and students of color with culturally-informed pathways to gain training, experience, and placement in high-paying solar and clean energy jobs in Austin.

Future potential

There were many proposals that we were not able to fund that, together, represent a significant potential to catalyze equitable access to green jobs, and we don’t want to leave that opportunity on the table.

Our community partners are our greatest asset in increasing economic stability and climate resilience. We look forward to finding ways to work with all applicants to leverage their knowledge and desire to create a greener, more equitable Austin.

The Equitable Green Jobs Grant program is all about learning and sharing, so keep an eye on this space for updates on the grant projects and our findings.


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