image courtesy The Horticultural Society of New York

As New York City upgrades its aging buildings and breaks ground on new green developments, building features like stormwater management systems, green roofs, and rain gardens are fast becoming the norm rather than the exception. In West Harlem, these projects are popping up continuously, especially with Columbia University’s expansion. In order to give the local community more involvement in the changes happening in their own backyards, Community Board 9, under the direction of the board’s Economic Development chair Savona Bailey-McClain, has created a comprehensive green jobs training program. Partnering with the Horticultural Society of New York, STRIVEColumbia, and other groups, CB 9 formed a green network of neighbors that will provide construction and green infrastructure training to local residents for free.

green jobs training, manhattan community board 9, horticultural society of new york, strive, strive job training, green construction training, green jobs nyc, green jobs harlem, columbia universityimage courtesy The Horticultural Society of New York

“We’re creating a human ecosystem to engage the community and deploy green construction in West Harlem,” says Bailey-McClain, who has worked for years to get a green jobs training program off the ground in the community.

The program is already underway, with recruitment currently taking place for the first phase of construction training, which will be conducted by STRIVE, a workforce development agency. To qualify, a person must pass a literacy test and a physical, showing they can lift at least 50 lbs. Additionally, participants must be on food stamps, a requirement stipulated by the funding STRIVE secured, a Food Stamp Employment and Training Grant. While the program will take place in West Harlem, all city residents are welcome to apply.

Even if someone can’t participate in the construction training, the Board has brought in groups like Literacy Partners to help individuals reach the reading level required to pass the literacy test. “We will work with people where they are, no matter where that is,” says Bailey-McClain. Columbia is also offering more than 2,000 online career preparedness courses, such as project management and resume writing.

The first part of the training, conducted by STRIVE, will be a 12-week light building maintenance course which includes OSHA10, Weatherization, Energy Audit & Retrofitting, and Renovation, Repair and Painting training. STRIVE is hoping to secure additional funding to offer their full Green Construction regime in the future. After completing this part, participants can go on to other training like Hazardous Waste Removal, Confined Space, Disaster Preparedness, and the green infrastructure training with the Horticultural Society.

green jobs training, manhattan community board 9, horticultural society of new york, strive, strive job training, green construction training, green jobs nyc, green jobs harlem, columbia universityimage courtesy The Horticultural Society of New York

The Hort’s training gives individuals a comprehensive overview of green infrastructure, highlighting stormwater management with training for rain gardens, rain water cachement systems, green roof installation, design and maintenance, and more. Graduates will receive professional certifications. “It’s always been [the Hort’s] mission to emphasize the connection between people and plants,” says Dwaine Lee, Director of Special Projects at the Horticultural Society. “We’re training a workforce that adequately understands that.”

CB 9 is currently working to secure funding for green roof training in the fall, where trainees would install green roofs and receive a stipend. Putting graduates to work in the community is a major focus of the program, and one of the main reasons why the Board brought in Columbia as a partner. Manhattanville is a sustainable development and with this training, local residents will qualify to work on the construction.

“We are training people in the areas that they are going to need,” says Bailey-McClain. “It gives Columbia an incentive to be a good neighbor. We have people who can get the job done.” CB 9 also reached out to other contractors working in West Harlem, like Janus Properties, developers of the Taystee Factory site, to work directly with them to place people in jobs.

“This is about neighbors helping neighbors,” says Bailey-McClain. “We’re really looking out for each other and trying to help each other live a little better.”

+ Manhattan Community Board 9
+ The Horticultural Society of New York
+ STRIVE