From Course Work to an Advanced Energy Job
In 2005, Ralph Montano quit his job as a receptionist in the public defender’s office in Santa Barbara County California to seek a better opportunity back home in Imperial County, just east of San Diego along the Mexico border.
It took quite a while. Over the next five years he applied for 40 jobs, got one interview but no offer of employment. He worked as a volunteer for the county social services agency, just to stay busy. But a lack of income forced him and his family – a wife and eight children – onto welfare.
“Maybe it’s time I went back to school,” Montano said, recalling his thoughts after their conversation. “At the time, the only thing I knew about green was recycling cans and bottles. I didn’t know there was more to it. Boy, was I wrong.”
Today, Montano holds a certificate that qualifies him as an expert in green construction. Upon completion of his coursework last year, job offers were waiting— “I was amazed,” he said—and for the past year, he has been working non-stop for a local company that builds and rehabilitates projects with only energy-efficient materials.
Montano is now 35, earning $12 an hour with aspirations to complete a second course that will qualify him as a supervisor making $18 an hour. His story illustrates the premium California places on an advanced energy economy though educational programs leading to job creation—even as the state is cutting other programs to balance the budget.
The course he took was made possible by a grant of $439,578 that was part of the 2009 California Clean Energy Workforce Training Program, the largest state-sponsored green jobs training program in the nation, awarding $27 million in 34 grants to help develop the state’s advanced energy economy. Grants have been especially welcome in communities with a high unemployment rate. Through the first half of 2011, Imperial County had the highest unemployment rate among California’s 58 counties, 28.5 percent, more than twice the state average, 21.1 percent.
In June, Imperial Valley College won a second grant, $600,000, part of a program that distributed $5.4 million to 10 schools and resource agencies providing job training to unemployed and underemployed residents for work in the advanced energy industry.
The grants are part of the reason California leads the nation in advanced energy job creation.
“These grants mean hope and better opportunities,” said Martha Garcia, the IVC administrator who oversees implementation of the program. “We have a very high poverty rate in our communities, and these grants improve economic stability and spur economic growth.”
Montano said the opportunity to return to school has changed his life and saved his family. They are moving off of public assistance, he bought his kids new clothes this year “and for the first time I bought a car that has air conditioning,” he said. “Things are really looking up.”
The car is no luxury, by the way. Summer daytime highs in Imperial County, which is largely rural and agricultural, typically reach 105 to 110 degrees.
In school, Montano learned a range of skills for use with new energy efficient technologies in construction that are making homes and buildings environmentally safe and saving money for the owners. As one example, he can assess a building for leaks that allow in pesticides used in nearby farm fields.
“This whole experience has really opened my eyes,” Montano said. “I persevered. I put my mind to it. I’m just so happy.”
And California has one less unemployed worker to worry about.