$2.7 million granted for 'green' job training

| Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010

A $2.7 million federal stimulus grant for the Private Industry Council of Westmoreland/Fayette is targeted for training 250 unemployed people in Fayette County for "green" jobs in the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries.

The council's "Pathways Out of Poverty" grant, announced Wednesday by the Department of Labor, was the only one of 38 programs nationwide that directly serves residents in Western Pennsylvania.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said during a teleconference that the $150 million disbursed yesterday was designated for organizations in areas where the poverty rate is 15 percent or higher, as determined by the Census Bureau.

Fayette's poverty rate is 19 percent, and the 10.2 percent unemployment rate for November was 2.3 percent higher than the measurement for the seven-county Pittsburgh region.

Tim Yurcisin, president of the Private Industry Council, said the program will focus on basic skills training and vocational training, with individual counseling offered by case managers.

"With the increase in unemployment figures, it is imperative that we develop the skills necessary for green energy jobs," Yurcisin said. "New technologies and the Marcellus Shale (gas drilling) rush provide hope for a strong future for Fayette County."

The Fayette grant is intended to build a program to serve unemployed workers, high school dropouts and individuals with a criminal record. Training efforts will lead to an employer-recognized certificate or degree, with the goal of placing 120 people in unsubsidized training-related jobs.

The council has almost 20 partners in the training program, including local unions, universities, CareerLink offices and businesses, including Solar Power Industries, Smalley Construction, Fairchance Construction and Advanced Geo Solutions.

"Green technology is a part of our future, and we have to embrace it and look to where it can lead in overall economic development," Fayette County Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky said.

A 2005 study of the county's social conditions showed that a large percentage of workers were classified as "working poor," said John Rapano, the lead investigator for the Fayette County Human Service Council report. They were making too much to be on public assistance but too little to be considered as having a living wage, he said in an e-mail.

"We recommended changes at the policy level, including enhanced training and providing workers with a 'tool kit' of skills and habits to enhance their career opportunities," said Rapano, instructor of human development and family studies at Penn State's Fayette campus. "The description of the 'Pathways Out of Poverty' stimulus funds awarded to PIC appears to meet these criteria and can help many individuals and their families to improve their quality of life."

Solis characterized the grants as helping workers in "disadvantaged communities" to have access to "the good, safe and prosperous jobs of the 21st century green economy."

Asked about the availability of training for past criminal offenders with the stimulus funding, Solis and Philadelphia-area Congressman Chaka Fattah said the grants will give them a chance to learn a trade and become productive citizens.

Fattah pointed to the Second Chance Act, a 2008 bipartisan effort signed by the Bush administration to fund government agencies and nonprofit organizations with various services for formerly imprisoned individuals.

Of the 38 grant recipients, 24 identified helping ex-offenders through their programs.

"It is a necessary public policy to try to reintegrate people back into society if they've had a small brush with the law," Fattah said.

The training grant is the second round of funding the Private Industry Council has gotten through the stimulus package, following a $322,575 grant last fall to serve 36 preschool kids in Fayette through the Head Start program.

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