Inter-City Services Prepares Students for Green Job Market

Photo: Inter-City Services, a vocational training institute, provides free services to students, including training for the green job market.
Matthew Miller/Staff
Inter-City Services, a vocational training institute, provides free services to students, including training for the green job market.

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As more companies shift their focus to green products and services, knowledge about sustainable technology is becoming increasingly valuable, even as jobs in the city - in any market - are hard to come by.

But through grants and contracts with the city and the Berkeley Unified School District, Inter-City Services - a vocational training institute in South Berkeley - is able to provide free services for its students, many of whom are veterans and most of whom are unemployed. And now, after over 25 years of serving Bay Area residents, the establishment is offering training appropriate for the green job market, an industry that the institute's founder and executive director Mansour Id-Deen expects to boom.

"There's a tremendous trend in this direction," he said. "We're just at the apex of it at this moment. We expect it to blossom in the years to come."

In January, the institute began to offer solar panel installation training classes online and, over the coming months, three more classes with a green technology focus will become available.

But even slightly shrinking the city's unemployment rate - about 10 percent in January - by tapping into the green market may prove difficult, according to Carol Zabin, research director for the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.

"When you have so many experienced, unemployed workers training people in specific - particularly entry-level - skills, they're probably not going to be able to find work," she said. "It's unlikely."

Zabin said that for the construction industry, training programs that do not have connections with employers do not result in jobs. About 40 percent of jobs in construction in the state have been lost since 2006, she said, making it the sector with the largest employment drop. Consequently, there are already trained, experienced workers looking for the same jobs.

However, the green job market, which includes positions in construction and technology, is growing - from 2008 to 2009, the number of green jobs increased by 3 percent in the state while total jobs only increased by 1 percent, according to a recent study from Next 10, a nonpartisan research group. The Bay Area showed the greatest growth, expanding by 109 percent since 1995.

"It's just amazing the leadership that the Bay Area has had in terms of green technology and innovation," said Noel Perry, founder of Next 10. "I don't know the future, but based on the progression of increase, I see (green jobs) continuing to grow."

Since the economic crisis began, people have hoped that the green sector would create more employment opportunities. But some business owners are skeptical of whether the demand for environmentally friendly products and services led to an expected high level of growth in the job market.

"When the recession hit, they said, 'This green stuff is going to blow up, we're going to see huge growth,'" said Javier Valenzuela, a co-owner of Alter Systems, a Berkeley-based business that sells and installs solar products. "That hasn't really happened."

From 1995 to 2009, jobs in the state's green economy grew from 111,000 to 174,000, according to the Next 10 study. But Valenzuela said he thinks that most consumers do not have enough money to sustain the industry and that, since his company opened in 2004, the sector has become "saturated."

"You can have all these workers, and if the demand isn't there, you're not going to get projects," he said. "You can't just rely on one sector of the economy to do this, it's kind of foolish."

Inter-City Services is not looking to fix the state's economy, though. By providing these services, Id-Deen said he hopes to simply give his students an edge so they can begin a career.

"Our goal is to make sure that, as with the digital divide, that there's not a green tech divide in our community," he said. "We want to make sure that folks in our community understand the need for sustainable energy."


Soumya Karlamangla is the lead environment reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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