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How A New Civilian Conservation Corps Will Benefit Illinois’ Infrastructure In The Chicago Tribune

Did you know that Openlands helped shape the Renew Conservation Corps legislation with Senator Dick Durbin, which would create green jobs for young people and result in revamped infrastructure, reforestation, and ecosystem restoration? Openlands’ President and CEO Jerry Adelmann was interviewed for this article in the Chicago Tribune about how a new Conservation Corps, included in President Biden’s infrastructure plan, would mimic President Roosevelt’s New Deal program, which employed 3 million men and left a legacy across the country in parks, preserves, and national parks.

Openlands Talks About A New Civilian Conservation Corps on Wisconsin Public Radio

Openlands’ President and CEO Jerry Adelmann and Vice President of Community Conservation Daniella Pereira were interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio, where they discussed how new Civilian Conservation Corps legislation can put people back to work, fight climate change, and connect people to nature.

The Arborist Registered Apprenticeship Program

The Arborist Registered Apprenticeship is a 3-year training program administered by Openlands in partnership with the Department of Labor and Tree Care Companies across the Chicago region. The Apprenticeship coordinates with the industry to improve recruitment and retention, and create a path to welcome a more diverse and experienced applicant pool. At the same time, the program introduces participating apprentices to a diverse array of career opportunities in Arboriculture and Urban Forestry all while being paid, gaining credentials, and professional training by certified arborists in the field.  

Building a Green Workforce

Combatting climate change should simultaneously build resilient infrastructure, improve community health and safety, safeguard wildlife, and strengthen and create economic opportunities and sustainability for all people. Chicago can lead and establish a structure to provide that transition to workers and communities. Green jobs are not just jobs in the energy sector but also are jobs working in protecting ecosystems and biodiversity and storing and mitigating carbon through natural systems.

The demand for qualified workforce is high, with 69% of employers reporting difficulty hiring arborists and more than 50% willing to pay a premium for better skilled arborists. Most occupations provide excellent entry level job opportunities that also have little barriers to entry. 

The top employers in the Arboriculture field are the tree care industry, government municipalities, utility companies, and more. As a relatively young industry, tree care companies have struggled to recruit a diverse workforce and retain them. The most recent national study in 2002 reported that people of color represented only 5% of the workforce and women made up only 10%. Additionally, as a growing industry, not enough people think about forestry as a job, let alone understand the opportunities for career advancement throughout their lifetime.

The Apprenticeship

Openlands understands its success in mitigating the effects of climate change and building green equity in Chicago is linked to the growth of a diverse and inclusive Arboriculture industry in our region. As an organization at the nexus of the tree care industry, Chicago communities, and governmental partnerships, Openlands is uniquely positioned to lead the first registered arborist apprenticeship program in Illinois. 

“This program has been super beneficial because it gave me insight into what to expect with different jobs, it shows you what you can get into, you get to meet all sorts of different people involved in the community and also in the industry. It helped create some of those initial networks I can use later on in my career.”

Tonatiu Rodriguez, 2020 Graduate of the Forestry Training Program

The Arborist Registered Apprenticeship builds on the success of Openlands Forestry Training Program, to deliver a 3-year training program that gives apprentices 5,400 hours of on the job training, certifications, and networking experiences – preparing them for a successful career in the Arboriculture field.

Sign up to learn more about the Arborist Registered Apprenticeship and be alerted with the next round of applications open.

Clean Energy Jobs Act: Why it’s important, what nature-based solutions can contribute, and how you can support it now

By Andrew Szwak, Manager of Governmental Affairs

Across the globe, we’ve come to an economic halt with the disturbing rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. And with that halt, news coverage has noted the corollary drop in climate emissions

While emissions are down today, the havoc this pandemic has wreaked on our health, communities, jobs, and nation is immense. It is also a blow to our global climate reduction goals, with the potential to lose sight of our commitments. Instead, we must rise to this challenge and rethink how to drive our economy and meet climate objectives with nature-based approaches in mind.  

At Openlands, we have put strategic focus on dealing with climate change and the nature-based solutions that can mitigate it. Nature-based solutions can provide 37% of the carbon reductions the world needs to comply with the Paris Agreement, and yet it receives only 1-2% of the investment.

In Illinois, one of the biggest climate change initiatives has coalesced around state legislation called the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). A diverse coalition of labor supporters, utility groups, and environmental organizations wrote CEJA to address four fundamental priorities:

  1. Transition all energy generation to renewable sources by 2050,
  2. Remove all carbon from energy generation by 2030,
  3. Take 1 million gas and diesel vehicles off the roads, and
  4. Promote jobs and equitable economic opportunity in the process.

These are ambitious goals, and necessary to ensure thriving communities, economies, and ecologies in the future.  But we must ensure that nature-based jobs and economies are included. Our ability to advance nature-based solutions gives Openlands and conservation organizations like us a key role within the global movement to curb the climate crisis, and serve as important tools in Illinois’ arsenal to meet these ambitious goals.

So how should conservation and nature-based solutions fit into CEJA?

1.Renewable energy and nature-based solutions need new job training opportunities.

The transition to renewable energy requires technicians and project managers who know these new technologies and the regulations that govern them. Similarly, increasing nature-based solutions demands more ecologists, landscape architects, engineers, hydrologists, and agriculturalists with specialized knowledge of how to install and maintain them. CEJA plans to create job training hubs for individuals to learn renewable energy skills. We are requesting that these hubs also include opportunities to learn green infrastructure installation and maintenance, urban forestry, regenerative farming practices, and other essential skills to increase nature-based climate solutions.

2. CEJA authorizes local governments to create Community Energy and Climate Plans.

These plans will guide investments in renewable energy, transportation, and workforce development. They provide excellent opportunities to embed natural climate solutions into the suite of tools that Illinois communities will use to combat climate change. Rural communities in particular will be well-positioned to prioritize workforce training and funding for natural climate solutions into their efforts. Consequently, Openlands is advocating for mandatory consideration of natural resources and natural climate solutions in these Community Energy and Climate Plans. We also hope to use these plans to build momentum for more concerted efforts to incentivize nature-based solutions.

3. CEJA incentivizes new renewable energy installations, such as community solar and wind facilities.

Energy generated by these facilities will need connections to the electricity grid. Unfortunately, renewable energy in other states has followed dirty energy’s lead by targeting public lands for transmission and siting of new projects. Protected public lands, on which nature-based solutions are so abundant, should never be sacrificed to accommodate additional, and often redundant, energy infrastructure. Openlands is advocating strongly for CEJA to include better safeguards against destruction of protected lands related to new energy projects.

We are working hard to align CEJA more closely with the interests of conservation. WE NEED YOU to support our work with your own advocacy. Lend your voice to passing the Clean Energy Jobs Act by contacting your state legislators using this form and ask them to include nature-based climate solutions in the final bill.