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Program works to bring 'green' construction jobs to Wisconsin

Latino engineer couple working on a solar panel
Carlos - stock.adobe.com
Latino engineer couple working on a solar panel

The Wisconsin Latino community has been inundated with job opportunities in the "green" economy thanks to a new pilot program.

Elevate, a climate-change equity nonprofit, has partnered with the Latino Academy of Workforce Development to help minority construction workers develop relationships within the climate-change economy.

The Contractor Accelerator helps electricians get certifications to install solar panels, or workers to install heating and cooling systems that aren't reliant on fossil fuels.

Baltazar De Anda Santana, co-founder and executive director of the Latino Academy, said there's been a disconnect between minority communities and the green-energy economy.

"They were not part of that green energy conversation," said De Anda Santana. "Not because they didn't want to be, but because they didn't know how to get closer to that conversation. One participant, when we were talking about how to access contracts, or how to get some of the certifications, the person said, 'I didn't know that we could do that.'"

Given this is a pilot program, he said he is hoping to bring it back in the future, with some alterations. He said he wants to make a more permanent version available with added business training for a green-energy workforce.

He said the group is eyeing several grants to keep the program alive.

Elevate will also evaluate whether changes need to be made, although the program has proven highly effective.

Melissa Gombar - Elevate's director of workforce development - said a similar program in Chicago has seen businesses take off and grow as a result, and the number of diverse contractors grow too.

She explained that it's good to hear firsthand about the challenges from minority-owned businesses in this field.

"They came in to talk to the program participants about their journey," said Gombar, "what to do or not to do, give kind of like inside tips and tools of the trade, because those things aren't made explicit. It's like a hidden culture of how to break into the construction industry."

Other accelerator programs have helped workers in Michigan, Missouri and Oregon. Gombar added that as the effects of climate change grow, jobs in this sector of the construction economy will increase at a faster rate and should lead to more lucrative opportunities.

Edwin J. Viera is a reporter and producer in North Tonawanda, New York. He's previously reported for the Niagara Gazette and the Ithaca Times. Edwin got an early start in radio interning for WBFO-88.7FM, NPR's Buffalo affiliate. In 2018, he graduated from SUNY Buffalo State College with a B.A. in Journalism, and in 2022, graduated from Syracuse University with an M.S. in Communications.
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