Lee Einer

 

Santa Fe Community College (SFCC) is offering free job training through its Environmental Workforce Development program, which is designed to provide a single solution to the dual challenges of environmental protection and long-term unemployment.

 

The program is funded through a $300,000 grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and is part of the EPA’s Brownfields program, which arose out of environmental justice issues. Its purpose is to restore land that has been contaminated by industrial pollutants so that it can be made safe and returned to productive use. Perhaps the best-known example in northern New Mexico is the Santa Fe Railyard. Industrial activity had contaminated the water and soil there with petroleum products, lead and other toxic substances, rendering it unfit for human use. In 2001 an EPA targeted assessment was done, and the city entered the site into the NM Environment Department’s Voluntary Cleanup Program. The cleanup was completed in 2006, and today the railyard is a vibrant community resource and economic engine, featuring artists’ studios, galleries, museums, retail shops, a 13-acre park, and of course, the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market.

 

The Brownfield program was eventually modified to provide training to the unemployed within the target community. “Since then,” said Ann Black, associate dean at SFCC, “other agencies outside the EPA have contributed their funding for job training. That’s allowed the programs to expand past Brownfields to work on wastewater and renewable-energy projects. It allows communities to customize their job training programs.”

 

The program engages in several local partnerships. NM’s pueblos, being sovereign nations, administer their own Brownfields programs. SFCC has partnered with the Eight Indian Northern Pueblos Council to provide the needed training. The program also assisted the Santa Fe County Fire Department with a grant application for cleanup efforts in the Pecos area. “We’re just waiting for them to get funding,” Black said, “and then they’ll be looking to hire some of our forestry graduates to work on that project.”

 

The Environmental Workforce Development program initially focused on Environmental Technician training. This year a second training program for forest restoration and timber thinning was added. Both programs include Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response certification, a mandatory component of all of the EPA Brownfield job training programs nationwide.

 

The program is tailored to build on the existing knowledge and skill sets of the long-term unemployed. “Our goal,” said Black, “is to take folks who already have some skills and education, and to really upskill them. When we work with those individuals and give them industry certifications, it gives them the extra bump they need to get a job.” Janet Kerley, the program’s manager, said that about half of the program’s first graduating class has gotten job placement. Two former graduates from that group stand out as success stories.

 

Thomas Gonzales is now facilities operations manager with the state of NM and oversees the maintenance and operation of 23 state government buildings. Gonzales said he got that position because of the training he received. “The education was very broad but very useful,” Gonzales said. “We got certified in first aid, CPR, defibrillators, GIS, GPS and all the laws having to do with hazardous waste disposal.”

 

Adrian Chavez’s training got him appointed to the Northern NM Citizens Advisory Board, which focuses on direct remediation and waste removal from Los Alamos National Labs and also monitors the WIPP site in Carlsbad. His position on the board allows him to represent his community’s environmental protection interests.

 

Both Gonzales and Chavez pointed to Program Manager and instructor Janet Kerley as a big reason for the program’s success. Kerley, whose academic background is in anthropology, archeology and chemistry, was responsible for much of the environmental and wastewater testing, and hazardous chemicals management at Signetics, which later became Philips Semiconductor. Additionally, she has been active for many years in the regulatory process, at both the federal and state levels, and helped shape some of the current regulations governing health, safety and environmental regulation. Today, joined by other expert instructors, Kerley spearheads this training program at SFCC.

 

SFCC also participates in a statewide partnership as a Center of Excellence, providing green jobs training in biofuels, green building and energy efficiency.

 

The next round of SFCC’s Environmental Workforce Development program will begin on July 15. For more information, visit www.sfcc.edu/epa_training