Federal Grant Lays Foundation for New Job

Re-training got a long-unemployed construction worker back on the job.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The demand for green energy products is helping fuel new job growth in California. (Published Friday, Apr 1, 2011)

    More than two years of unemployment have ended for Miguel Vazquez, a 39-year-old construction worker, thanks to a federally funded training program that enabled him to learn new green building techniques.

    Vazquez received the training through President Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill. He now has a job laying insulation and retrofitting heating systems, services for which demand is growing as residents and business owners look for ways to become more energy-efficient.  

    But the circuitous path between the $800 billion in federal stimulus spending and Vazquez’s long-awaited job offer illustrates just how complex the federal funding apparatus is. The lag between the bill’s passage and Vazquez’s hiring helps explain the frustration among so many Americans about the pace of the economic recovery.

    When Vazquez  lost his job as a construction worker in the fall of 2009, it was a financial and emotional blow to the father of three. The family's financial outlook worsened a few months later, when his wife lost her receptionist job. 

    It was around the same time that the Federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act was rolling through Congress. President Obama had tried to promote the bill as an opportunity to create legions of new green jobs by pouring money into everything from renewable energy to high-speed trains.

    But as Vazquez’s protracted unemployment attests, matching that rhetoric with results has been tricky.

    The jobless rate that had hammered the U.S. market had been especially punishing in the building industry. The rate among construction workers is nearly 22 percent, according Bureau of Labor Statistics’ March report, a figure that has hit California's Latino population particularly hard.

    Since 2007, 12 percent of the 6 million Latinos employed in California worked in construction, and more than 200,000 have lost their jobs since then, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

    Turning those hardhats into the environmental workers of the future is a thorny challenge. Many lack the right skills. And even for those who possess them, a lackluster real-estate market continues to depress demand for their services.

    Vazquez had spent years in construction, but knew little about environmental certification. Last November he registered for a course offered at the One-Stop Center Business and Career Center in Inglewood.

    The course’s $8,000 cost would have been far out of his reach, but a grant from the South Bay Work Force Investment Board “picked up the entire the tab from funds we received from the stimulus bill,” Robert Mejia, the group’s employment services manager said. Funding courses like this, he says, is part of an effort to “get people formerly in the construction industry back to work.”

    Vazquez finished his course in January, received his retrofit certification and quickly found work home heating systems. He now has a job laying insulation and retrofitting heating systems with The Building Doctors, an eco-friendly home construction company. 

    "Construction projects have really picked up recently,” said Vazquez. “I think it’s because people are starting to demand the services of those who can help put systems into place that help reduce energy consumption.”