Chicago, Illinois Green Collar Jobs Initiative

The Chicago Green Collar Jobs Initiative is a program that assists those seeking jobs in the Chicago metropolitan area ("Chicagoland"), with an emphasis on resilient and equitable employment. The Initiative is part of the Chicago Job Council's broader mission to create stable employment for frontline communities. Since its founding in 2002, the Initiative has focused their efforts on Chicagoland workers who have historically been left out of the labor market, and on educating disadvantaged job seekers. Working with various partners – such as community colleges, government agencies, community-based organizations, and other groups – the Initiative published the report, Building a Green Collar Workforce in Chicagoland. The report establishes several recommendations for job seekers, policymakers, and other stakeholders that are seeking join or facilitate a green, resilient economy staffed by primarily by disadvantaged job seekers. The report offers strategies that can be undertaken by programs working to develop a green collar economy, as well as processes policymakers and government agencies can champion to develop a green workforce with a focus on equitable employment. Among the suggested programs are hands-on training; green training programs; standardization of green weatherization processes, and more. 

The Chicago Green Collars Initiative is directed by a Steering Committee made up of 14 organizations, and is managed by the Chicago Jobs Council. "It is a multi-organizational collaborative of partners from labor groups, community organizations, businesses, education, sustainability organizations, and environmental and workforce development non-profits." To develop a green workforce, the Initiative follows five principles, to:

  1. Connect stakeholders to pursue the expansion of resilient jobs in the region
  2. Distinguish workforce training and employment opportunities to help workers in the area find emerging green-collar jobs
  3. Assist workers in finding access to green-collar jobs for those who are especially vulnerable and/or typically excluded from the labor market
  4. Facilitate the establishment of training programs to help these vulnerable populations find green-collar jobs
  5. Ensure that new resilient jobs offer advancement potential

To advance these principles, as well as the ultimate goal of promoting economic resilience as a whole in the Chicagoland area, the report provides several strategies. The report contains strategies that can be promulgated by both nonprofits seeking to assist those at an individual level, as well as recommendations for potential policy advancements that lawmakers can champion.

For nonprofits like the Initiative that seek to assist individual workers in educating themselves on and enter a resilient economy, collaboration and partnerships between nonprofits, businesses, and job seekers need to be highly prioritized. The report states that the emergence of green-collar occupations has presented the economic sector with a fantastic opportunity to “integrate classroom and hands-on learning” with programs like the “earn and learn” approach. These approaches are an excellent way to teach those in a lower income or educational bracket while they are continuing to work. These initiatives and programs should also seek ways to standardize their green training programs. In standardizing curriculum, these training programs can be applied elsewhere with minimal effort in terms of startup and lesson planning. Lastly, initiatives and programs seeking to involve individuals in green-collar jobs should ensure that they focus their efforts on engaging low income and/or low skill workers.

Policymakers can also contribute to advancing a resilient economy through policy and incentive programs. For example, the report suggests that a standardized weatherization process could better prepare the community for climate events, in addition to providing more employment for those seeking to enter the climate resilience industry. Similarly, policies requiring that minimum common building standards be met – standards that include things like maximizing efficiency improvements, minimizing waste, etc. – can also help to advance resilient infrastructure, and a green-collar workforce. Lastly, the report suggests that policymakers can promote integrating green workforces into economic development strategies. 

An Appendix in the Building a Green Collar Workforce in Chicagoland report also lists over ten different programs, non-profits, and companies that can act as resources – or even potential employers – when it comes to job seekers looking to enter the green collar market. 

The status of the Initiative is unclear as of July 2020. 


Publication Date: October 2009

Related Organizations:

  • Chicago Jobs Council

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Resource Types:

  • Best practice
  • Case study
  • Policy analysis/recommendations

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