Older green workers fear trainee wave

Youth Radio Sep 4, 2009

Older green workers fear trainee wave

Youth Radio Sep 4, 2009


Bill Radke: Vice President Biden is expected to announce today, a California company that makes solar panels will get a federal loan guarantee for more than half a billion dollars — if the company can’t repay the loan, taxpayers will. The company hopes to create up to 4,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department is also paying to train people to work in so-called green industries. That’s great for the new trainees, but some older workers worry the program could put them out of a job. Youth Radio’s David Dominguez filed this story.

David Dominguez: This is ETI, the Electrical Training Institute of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Here, you find a mix of older union workers, called journeymen, and young apprentices, like 24-year-old Anthony Hernandez. Right now, Hernandez and his fellow trainees are learning how to install solar panels.

Anthony used to be non-union electrical contractor, but decided to join the union for the safety training and benefits.

Anthony Hernandex: We’ll be brought up as apprentices with the solar and the green movement so the journeymen will have to relearn everything. Hopefully it will be to our advantage and easier for us to install.

Hernandez says apprentices have an advantage over journeymen because they are new to the business and don’t have to change what they know.

And the numbers seem to follow that trend. The Los Angeles Workforce Investment Board reports that an estimated $20 million of stimulus funding is going to green job training in L.A. And younger workers will get more training money than adults. That presents a challenge to older workers.

Frank DuMarcos: I’m learning not to change the future, but to keep up with the new technology.

That’s electrical journeyman Frank K. DuMarcos. He’s a 10-year union veteran. He admits that jobs often boil down to the brutal bottom line of a contractor’s budget. And that creates tension.

DuMarcos: Some contractors hire apprentices because apprentices are cheaper than a journeyman. Some apprentices only make $20. A journeyman makes over $37. I’ve been on jobs where they had two journeymen and they had 15 apprentices.

But some policymakers believe more jobs will exist because of the increase in green funding. And older union workers will have a chance to retrain to be competitive.

Jerome Ringo is the President of the Apollo Alliance. That’s an organization devoted to creating green jobs throughout the economy.

Jerome Ringo: Our goal is to make sure that there’s equity, no matter where they come from on the economic ladder, that they all benefit from the job opportunities that are created as a result from investment in green jobs.

And that investment could pay off for both Anthony and Frank. With they finish the training, they both can earn more on the job.

In Los Angeles, I’m David Dominguez for Marketplace.

Radke: David’s story was produced by Youth Radio.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.