Moving to a new green economy could bring thousands of new jobs to Boston, but right now, that transition isn’t happening fast enough. An upcoming city initiative aims to speed up the process while ensuring new positions go to those who need them most.
The Youth Green Jobs Corps will provide green job training and placement for unemployed and underemployed Boston residents between the ages of 18 and 30, including formerly incarcerated people. Last week, Mayor Michelle Wu announced the program will be led by Davo Jefferson, a longtime social justice reform advocate who says he “gets a charge like nothing else” out of helping people find jobs.
“This is my life’s passion, to help folks prepare for opportunities that they may have difficulty preparing for on their own,” he said.
Jefferson has spent the past 20 years helping kids, young adults, and reentering citizens find work of all kinds, from entry-level finance roles to jobs in warehouses. Bringing those skills to the green economy, he said, “just makes sense.”
“This is an emerging field with tremendous growth potential for livable wage employment,” he said.
Jefferson says the new program will accelerate the transition to an economy that is not only more climate-friendly but also fairer. Right now, green jobs aren’t equally accessible to people of all backgrounds. Employees of both the National Park Service and the solar industry, for instance, are overwhelmingly white.
“Marginalized communities are always last to get a seat at the table when these types of opportunities are available,” he said. “This will give the people from those communities a chance to get their foot in the door.”
The program, which the city first announced in the fall, was inspired by a similar initiative in Philadelphia. It’s a key component of Wu’s vision for a Green New Deal, which aims to quickly reduce planet-warming pollution while creating economic opportunities for everyone, especially those from marginalized communities who often suffer the worst impacts of climate change.
“Economic and environmental injustice are inextricably linked,” said Michael Brotchner, chief operating officer of YouthBuild USA, a Roxbury-based workforce development nonprofit. “The same communities facing environmental injustice also lack access to well-paying careers.”
The project comes amid calls for a federal green public jobs program. Jefferson said if it’s successful, it could serve as a model for cities across the country.
Right now, the plan is in its early stages. The goal is to launch it in May. One of Jefferson’s first steps will be to work with a team of researchers from Harvard and the city to flesh it out.
He is not yet sure how many jobs will be created, or what they will entail, but he says they’ll come with livable wages, benefits, and strong worker protections, and expects they will span several different fields, from solar installation and home retrofitting to tree planting and working in parks. The initiative will also offer connections to continuing education opportunities, including through the city’s free community college program.
“My goal would be to get as many folks as possible in the know that these opportunities exist, and then have them be trained and placed into these opportunities,” he said.
Jefferson, who is Black and grew up in a Franklin Hill public housing complex, says he’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that people of all backgrounds can fit into these positions. He plans to build out a supportive services team focused on helping workers find affordable housing, childcare support, and mental health services.
He said he’ll also work to establish a “welcoming and encouraging” work environment that inspires participants’ confidence, which he’s found can be a challenge. He described, for instance, working with Boston firms that expected teenagers from a summer job program to own the same business attire as their other employees.
“This is typically not a population that is heavily involved in the green industry, and for the most part, the people that will be training these people may not look like the people they’re training,” he said.
Lamar Cummings, a Dorchester resident, was incarcerated in South Bay Correctional Facility when he first met Jefferson, who was then leading a program for men preparing to leave prison. He said Jefferson worked to make sure the class “wasn’t above anybody’s head.” The two have kept in touch ever since, and Cummings said Jefferson still reaches out to share job opportunities.
“When you’re in this space of work, your heart’s really, truly got to be in it, man, and Davo’s is,” Cummings said. “He has faith in the people who he works with. ... It’s more than just a job to him.”
This story has been updated to correct the location of YouthBuild USA’s headquarters.