State Spent $2.3 Million to Train 200 in Renewable Energy — Only a Few Got Jobs

MichiganWorks! administrator: ‘Those green jobs never came’
By Tom Gantert | June 13, 2012

In September 2009 with the state reeling and an unemployment rate of 14.1 percent, then Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced a green jobs training program that she said would help make Michigan “a center for renewable energy and green jobs” by training people in eight of Michigan’s most economically depressed cities.

Almost three years later, the Energy Conservation Apprenticeship Readiness Program (ECAR) had just 200 people apply statewide, cost $2.3 million in federal stimulus money and yielded few jobs for the enrollees who were trained.

For example, of the 24 students who enrolled in the city of Detroit’s program, only one got a job for which they were trained while two others landed in apprenticeship programs. There are 3.1 million jobs in the state.

In Benton Harbor, there were 20 enrollees in the nine-week training program. Two got jobs directly related to their training.

“They went and said, ‘We have some money. Let’s go train some people’,” said Todd Gustafson, executive director of the Berrien County MichiganWorks! office that coordinated the ECAR program in Benton Harbor. “Those green jobs never came.”

In Hamtramck and Highland Park, a combined 58 people enrolled in ECAR and five found jobs for which they were trained.

In Muskegon Heights, 25 people enrolled for the training and four received jobs for which they were trained.

A state official said the program, which is still on the books until the end of June, is not expected to be continued. It involved the cities of Benton Harbor, Detroit, Flint, Hamtramck, Highland Park, Muskegon Heights, Pontiac and Saginaw.

In many instances, those enrolled found some type of employment. In Muskegon, for example, 14 of the 25 people ended up getting a job and in Detroit, 18 of the 24 enrollees found jobs — however only a few of them worked in the fields for which they spent nine weeks training.

“It’s a very small number (of jobs) with lots of money spent,” said Andrew Morriss, a University of Alabama professor of business and law. “It’s a typical government training program.”

The training was focused on green construction and building trades, such as weatherization installers.

“The training was very good,” said Cheryl Sanford, a regional manager for Michigan’s Human Resources Development Inc. that covers Wayne and Oakland counties. “But with any training program, it works better if you have buy-in from the employers as well.”

Berrien County’s Gustafson said the plan failed because it wasn’t “demand-driven.”

“If you don’t do that, you can train everybody and it doesn’t matter if there is no connectivity from the supply to the demand,” he said.

When Gov. Granholm announced the ECAR program, her office’s press released pointed to rosy job projections in the Michigan Green Jobs Report put out in 2009 by the Michigan Department of Energy Labor & Economic Growth. The report said Michigan businesses had created 109,000 private sector green jobs and that “Michigan’s green companies had expanded their employment by 7.7 percent and companies that produce renewable energy have grown by 30 percent.”

But a Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012 report cast doubt on some of the findings of the Michigan Green Jobs Report. For example, the BLS report stated Michigan had 79,771 green jobs based on 2010 data, about 37 percent lower than the 109,000 private-sector jobs listed in the state report.

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