Opinion: New York City should build a sustainable work pipeline for generations to come

The Washington Post / Contributor
Young people in construction

Opinion: New York City should build a sustainable work pipeline for generations to come

It happens by providing encouragement, opportunities and education to students.
April 22, 2022

Clean energy objectives, promoting good paying careers, and expanding access to safe and quality education are common goals we all share.

Mayor Eric Adams and the City Council have the opportunity to achieve these goals, with a path of collaboration and inclusion among diverse voices that embrace the vision of a better New York City. A key component involves mentoring and training our students for careers in the construction trades to be an integral part of building the bridge to a cleaner, greener energy future. 

The challenge involves connecting the right policies with disconnected solutions. Substantial, long-term change can happen immediately with the stroke of a pen to align urgent climate and economic priorities with available education resources.

Accelerating City Council Speaker Adrianne Adams’ idea to empower 700,000 adults to complete their education journey is a great place to start. Expanding this initiative to include skilled training certificates led by the construction trades will create an affordable alternative to traditional expectations of attending college. Instead of incurring over $100,000 in debt, a sustainable education-to-work pipeline could open up immediate opportunities for students – young and old – to obtain a life-time career in the green economy with a good paying job as a member of the construction trades.

Funding appears to be available now to get this done. In the FY 2015-2019 Department of Education Capital Plan, approximately $14 billion was appropriated towards completing construction projects that began in 2015.The city is proposing to allocate $600 million and $228 million for Plan NYC 2030 initiatives towards the conversion of school boilers to be more efficient and cleaner burning systems. It is likely that an additional $500 million will be allocated to make school infrastructure better this year.

A sustainable education-to-work pipeline can also help achieve climate goals. The recent pledge to increase the summer youth jobs program to $236 million from $157 million offers an unprecedented opportunity for city leaders to increase mentorship options with skilled labor. These mentorship programs can expose our youth to green projects like boiler conversions, or replacement of water and air systems that could help them see real-time results in reversing climate change as well as identify real green job options for life.

The prospect could see new apprentices launching careers that bring opportunities that give them skills, training, and encouragement and show that there are true alternatives to attending an expensive four-year college. The fact is, not everyone is going to become a doctor or a lawyer, and learning a skilled trade is something too few educators have focused on in the past. 

There is no excuse to not get started now. First, beginning in 2024 Local Law 97 (LL97) will require buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to meet ambitious carbon reduction targets. This includes 1,722 of New York City school properties.

Teaching is essential to ensure the law is applied and climate goals are achieved in a practical manner. Better, there is an environmental, clean energy job role to play within 16 different career clusters offered to students by the Department of Education.

As the building trades work to make all of our school facilities more green, clean, and efficient, we can simultaneously make progress on transitioning to renewable sources of power for the long run.

Progress must include acknowledging the need for an energy bridge to a zero-carbon future. There is no better place to prove this hypothesis than the laboratories of education. 

It is impractical to expect our schools and buildings to flip a switch to 100% renewable energy overnight. Science, safety, and proposed capital funding for infrastructure upgrades is simply not capable of making this leap. Totally abandoning reliability standards is a recipe for disaster. An energy bridge is needed to transition to renewable power sources. We are eager to build the clean energy bridge; however, policymakers need to know that this will take time and methodical planning to make it reliably work as a net zero emissions power system in the future.

New York City needs Mayor Adams to drive this conversation and we need the City Council to continue providing the resources to meet the challenge. As New York City sets its fiscal priorities, let’s make a commitment to make the investments needed to succeed for students of all ages, our environment and economy. 

Daniel Mulligan is the business manager of Enterprise Association Steamfitters Local 638.

Daniel Mulligan
Daniel Mulligan is the business manager of Enterprise Association Steamfitters Local 638.