St. Louis began leading the charge on climate action in the Midwest when it created its Sustainability Plan in 2013. Since then, under the leadership of Mayor Lyda Krewson, the city has moved from strength to strength: a benchmarking ordinance in 2017; adoption of the International Energy Conservation Code in 2018; a solar readiness standard for new buildings in 2019; and a building energy performance standard that just passed in May 2020, making St. Louis the first among Midwest cities to do so.
The city’s latest climate protection initiative takes sustainability and equity to the next level: This fall, St. Louis begins recruitment for a new green jobs training apprenticeship called the Solar Workforce Development Pilot, a paid program that will provide the suite of skills, services and training needed for participants to get a job in solar array installation. “We saw that the majority of such jobs were not being held by St. Louis residents, and we wanted to make sure they could participate in the region’s growing green economy,” says Catherine Werner, the city’s sustainability director.
Mayor Lyda Krewson adds, “It is an innovative way for us to make strides with the city’s ambitious climate protection goals while advancing diversity and equity in the workforce at the same time.” This multifaceted approach is what keeps the pioneering Gateway City at the forefront of sustainability.
Developed with support from the Energy Foundation and Inclusive Economics through the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge, the pilot program is a deep collaboration between St. Louis community partners with expertise in the solar industry and in workforce development.
Solar professionals from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and National Electrical Contractors Association (IBEW-NECA) will provide technical instruction and on-the-field training. At the same time, Employment Connection of St. Louis, St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE), and Building Union Diversity (BUD) will work together to prepare participants with OSHA training and job readiness. This may include assessing participants’ fitness for a particular position while improving their interview skills, along with various other soft and hard skills for employment success. Each pilot cohort participant will receive a $1,000 stipend for participating in the solar training program. Says Werner, “We have the jobs, and we have people who need the jobs, so this apprenticeship program is a way to try to bridge that gap.”
While the main objective is to place graduates into paid jobs or entry-level positions, the program is also focused on giving underserved St. Louis residents equitable access to careers in the renewable energy sector. “This paid training program will introduce minority groups to opportunities in the fields of green technology and the electrical trades,” says Sal Martinez, CEO of Employment Connection, which will oversee and coordinate the program.
Other partners include: Renew Missouri, which will help identify potential employers, educate participants about the local solar industry, and integrate the apprenticeship program into its Renew STL Solar program; Azimuth Energy and StraightUp Solar, which will provide job mentoring; and Washington University in St. Louis, which will assist in evaluation of the pilot program.
The St. Louis Solar Workforce Development Pilot program is a prime example of the city’s overarching Sustainability Plan. “This initiative advances the city’s triple bottom line sustainability goals with its environmental, economic, and social benefits,” says Werner.