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GAO Report Reveals Lingering Challenges, Opportunities for Green Jobs Initiatives

July 24, 2013

Green jobs have been at the center of a number of controversies in economic development circles over the past decade. Key among these debates is whether or not sufficient job opportunities exist to justify large public investments in green job-training programs. A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reveals that, at least at the federal level, a great deal of uncertainty remains about the green job labor market. The report lays out a number of challenges for green jobs initiatives at the Department of Labor, where job placement is only at 55 percent of its target levels. In doing so, the GAO report shows that there is room for improvement in green jobs programs at the federal, state and regional level.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is the key federal agency for supporting green jobs initiatives around the country. Since 2009, $595 million in federal funds have been allocated for green jobs programs within DOL, according to the GAO report. The Green Jobs Act of 2007 created the department's first framework for green jobs investment and several of its programs, though most of these activities remained unfunded until the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. About $500 million in ARRA funds were reserved for green jobs training and support services. While DOL offers a few non-training-focused green jobs programs, including State Labor Market Information Improvement Grants and Green Capacity Building Grants, ARRA specifically targeted training programs for expansion.

The GAO report focuses on DOL's four major green jobs-training programs, three of which were introduced in the Green Jobs Act and supported by ARRA. The ARRA-supported initiatives include Energy Training Partnership Grants, Pathways Out of Poverty Grants and State Energy Sector Partnership Training Grants programs, all of which will end by the end of July. A fourth program, the Green Jobs Innovation Fund (GJIF) pilot and demonstration project, began in 2011. The GJIF program currently is scheduled to continue into 2014.

These four DOL programs have awarded 103 training grants to green jobs efforts in 44 states since 2009. Of these grants, 44 percent were awarded to private nonprofit organizations, 34 percent went to state government agencies, 10 percent were awarded to organized labor or labor management organizations, 8 percent supported educational or technical training institutions and the remaining 2 percent of grantees were categorized as "other."

As most of these programs wind down and DOL transitions to a model of incorporating green jobs goals into broader programs, GAO has documented many of the challenges faced by these programs and their grantees. When ARRA jumpstarted the agency's green jobs effort, DOL faced a great deal of pressure to make awards very quickly before any large-scale studies of the labor market could be conducted. Grantees had to deal with both a lack of information about the local green jobs labor market and little instruction about how to track the outcomes of their activities.

GAO cites four major challenges faced by DOL training grantees:

  • A lack of reliable green jobs labor market information;
  • Insufficient time to meet grant requirements;
  • Knowledge gaps surrounding green skills and changing energy policies; and,
  • Difficulty placing participants into green jobs, primarily due to the poor economy.

The lack of clarity in how to collect outcomes has led to a lack of clarity in the performance of many of these efforts as well. GAO estimates that more workers were trained than had been expected, but job placements were at 55 percent of their targeted levels.

The findings suggest a number of lessons to be learned for other green jobs efforts at the federal, state and regional level. Labor market information and instruction on collecting outcomes is key, and could lead to improved results from these efforts. The problem of information gaps also suggests an opportunity for state agencies and regional organizations. By providing current information on the green jobs labor market and energy policies, states and regions could help leverage improved results for federally funding initiatives in their area.

Download the GAO report Labor's Green Jobs Efforts Highlight Challenges of Targeted Training Programs for Emerging Industries at: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-555.

federal agency, cleantech, energy