As King County’s first Green Jobs Program Manager, Michael Carter knew his initial task would be to do a lot of listening.
Working out of the Department of Natural Resources and Parks Director’s Office, Michael was asked to develop a countywide green jobs strategy – and that meant listening to the communities we serve, as well as partner employers and organizations.
“I see the County’s Green Jobs Strategy as an outreach tool to communities of color, to frontline communities, to show them all of the available opportunities that are connected to the green economy, connected to adaptation and mitigation measures, connected to lowering our greenhouse gas emissions, connected to improving how we get around,” he said.
Climate change is creating challenges for people and businesses alike, but it’s also creating opportunities for new career paths as governments and businesses adapt to the new normal. These opportunities are being strengthened by federal investments, including the Inflation Reduction Act that features increased spending to develop and implement green energy solutions.
“My mission is to connect workforce development best practices and create a strategy that meets the county’s overarching goal of providing opportunities for frontline communities – the folks who experience climate change impacts first and worst,” Michael said. “We are connecting our strategy to economic development and to our built and physical environments.
“Workforce development is all about relationships. It’s the relationships that facilitate employment,” he said. “In order to figure out what’s going to work, you have to talk to a lot of people, and you have to listen to them. You have to talk to employers and listen to what they’re saying. You have to talk to job seekers and listen to what they want.”
Building the new strategy, Michael took a three-pronged approach of building relationships, plus gaining qualitative input and collecting quantitative data.
“For relationship building, we developed a prospectus that provides an overview of what we’re hoping to accomplish with this strategy, then we set up listening sessions across communities where we could share our overview and let folks know what we’re doing and how they can get involved,” Michael said.
For the qualitative input seeking, Michael set up focus groups to help sharpen the proposed value, mission and vision statements for shaping the strategy.
“We wanted to get answers to questions such as, ‘What do we want to see for jobs in this region?’ and ‘What does a set of equitable values look like connected to green jobs here?’”
The quantitative data collection included surveys involving as many community members as possible to get the most input on prioritizing actions, strategies, tactics, and goals.
“We specifically reached out to some of the local workforce development organizations for their input, community-based organizations connected to our Climate Equity Task Force, local business communities, our labor partners and other local governments,” Michael said.
“Most importantly, we talked directly with job seekers. We talked with people who are looking for that ‘just right’ opportunity and who maybe haven’t considered looking at working within the green economy. That’s what we’re doing this for – that’s our priority.
“When we talk about workforce development, we’re talking about a specific group that’s known as ‘middle skill workers,’” Michael said. “They have a high school diploma but not a four-year degree. This is the majority of people in King County, and they’re the folks who want to get a little more training, maybe certification in a certain field, but might not be interested in or have the bandwidth for pursuing a four-year degree.”
The Green Jobs Strategy focuses on developing training and employment pathways that are accessible to those middle skill workers, including both short-term and long-term training opportunities from local training providers, such as community colleges, while connecting people to the kinds of careers that they could see themselves in over the long term.
“We are also focusing on our youth – the 16- to 24- year-olds who are still trying to figure out where they fit in in terms of their career,” Michael said. “We want to provide everyone with options, with exposure to different potential careers.”
What exactly is a “green job?” Michael says the definition is open to plenty of discussion.
“If you asked 100 different folks for their definition of what a green job is, you might get 100 different answers, but I define a green job as something that provides a benefit to the environment, while also providing a benefit to the community, and paying a living, sustainable wage,” he said.
“Specifically for King County government, we consider green jobs as the positions in various county departments that deal directly with the natural and built environments,” he said. The departments of Natural Resources and Parks, Local Services, Executive Services, and Metro are among the county organizations where green jobs exist in large numbers.
Using that definition, Michael is working to identify job sectors in King County with solid growth potential over the next decade, then determine how to best prepare the workforce to fill those positions.
With a strong, community-informed strategy now in place, Michael is shifting focus to highlighting existing employment opportunities with target audiences. That includes a “talent jam” job fair, happening later this year, where King County representatives can meet with potential employees to talk about career opportunities, the skills needed for various jobs, and more.
Michael said the next phase of the Green Jobs Strategy is establishing the infrastructure for local, state and federal partnerships around workforce development within specific industry sectors.
“We want this work to be data driven and connected to research,” he said. “We’re really excited about the collaboration we have with the Seattle Jobs Initiative, which completed a detailed industry analysis of high-growth sectors from 2021 to 2031 that’s connected to the green economy. We’ll use that data to create partnerships in the future to set up our region for success.
“We want to build that infrastructure so we’re ready when those opportunities do come down through emerging technologies, through grant funding, or other sources,” he said. “And we are working to ensure King County is an employer that models what we want to see in the community.
“I’ll give you an example: If we’re talking about giving someone an opportunity for an entry level position within DNRP, what happens after that entry level position? Where can they go from there? How can they get connected and involved in our climate response work?”
Michael helped launch a program in the DNRP Director’s Office called “Next Gen Climate,” which involves working with undergraduate and graduate students on project management deliverables focused on climate change.
“We’re incubating the next leaders through this program,” he said.
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Partners helped develop King County’s Green Jobs Strategy
A broad range of local governments, businesses, and community-based organizations contributed to development of the King County Green Jobs Strategy, building on Program Manager Michael Carter’s belief that the more inclusive he was when creating the strategy, the more inclusive and successful the strategy would be when setting it in motion.
Key partners include
Green jobs in action
- City of Seattle
- Port of Seattle
- Workforce Development Council of Settle-King County
- Emerald Cities collaborative
- Martin Luther King, Jr. County Labor Council
- Seattle Buildings and Trades Council
- The Nature Conservancy
- Dirt Corps
- University of Washington – College of the Environment
- Seattle Colleges Pre-Apprenticeship Construction Training program
- South Seattle College Sustainable Building Science Technology program
- Wood Technology Center
- Seattle Good Business Network
- EnviroStars sustainability program
Workforce training partnership bringing energy efficient heat pumps to King County homes and career training to local youth
Energy efficient electric heat pumps are coming to 150 homes in the North Highline and Skyway-West Hill unincorporated areas of King County this year through the County’s Energize! program to reduce homeowner costs and curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Installing the heat pumps will also include a green jobs training partnership for youth between the ages of 18 and 24 – an early deliverable of the county’s Green Jobs Strategy.
The Energize! program is working with community partners to support local youth – ages 18 to 24 – enrollment in training for heat pump installation. Participants who go through a 12-week program of work-based learning will be paid $21.50 per hour.
After completing the training, successful participants can connect to long-term, living-wage employment opportunities, such as apprenticeships and full-time roles in growing clean energy trades and industries.