Low-Income Youth Are Training for Green Jobs with Help from UMass Amherst and Youth Build-Holyoke

April 28, 2009

Contact: Janet Lathrop

AMHERST, Mass. – A dozen young people now working toward their general educational development (GED) certificates in Holyoke are also gaining significant job skills for the green, energy-efficiency economy, thanks to community outreach efforts of the green building program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in collaboration with nonprofits YouthBuild-Holyoke and the Center for Ecological Technology (CET), Northampton.

Simi Hoque, assistant professor in the new green building program at UMass Amherst, says seven men and five women between 16 and 20 years old who are already enrolled in Youth Build-Holyoke classes are the first group of what organizers hope will be many to benefit from this community-university partnership. The goal is to improve the young people’s skills and job prospects in energy and environmental conservation in western Massachusetts.

Hoque and Darnell Goldson, executive director of YouthBuild-Holyoke, with CET, an energy management agency, designed the pilot curriculum for four, four-week modules to be taught to GED students enrolled at YouthBuild-Holyoke. The first module, 20 hours on home energy auditing, is being taught this month by UMass Amherst green building graduate student Ryan Harb. Holyoke youth spend about two and a half hours, two days a week with Harb in ”very practical classes,” Hoque says, on energy units, energy flow and “the house as a system.”

Goldson says, “With the economy out there now, we wanted to help our students train to be ready when the green job stimulus money arrives. This partnership with UMass Amherst to make energy audit and weatherization training available is very valuable for our students.” He adds that he and colleagues have seen class attendance levels rise to over 92 percent among these young people “once we demonstrate the real way these skills are going to work for them.”

YouthBuild-Holyoke staff are now identifying two or three buildings in the community where the students will spend 40 hours of on-site, hands-on training in the next module, starting in June, led by CET in the “hands-on building.”

This will be followed by 20 hours of classroom work on energy modeling and audit reporting in Module 3 next fall, presented by another UMass Amherst grad student. Details of the final module on weatherization, scheduled for August, have yet to be set.

The Youth-Build Holyoke students learn basic building energy management, energy auditing and weatherization, which includes such skills as how to evaluate a building, fix air leaks that can account for 30 percent of heat loss, and test heating and cooling systems for efficient operation. There are also lessons on basic construction types, carpentry, heating and cooling systems and how to inspect them with state-of-the art equipment such as infrared cameras, blower door air leak test equipment and combustion analyzers.

Hoque, a mechanical engineer, says, “We want to address core issues facing low-income communities, such as housing, employment, energy efficiency, environmental health and safety and education.” Goldson and staff at YouthBuild Holyoke identified a handful of homes and apartment buildings in the students’ own neighborhood to serve as the class laboratory, where the youth will practice their new skills. YouthBuild-Holyoke is a local program of YouthBuild USA, a national youth and community development program that addresses housing, education, employment, crime prevention, and leadership development with young people working toward their GEDs.

Hoque also hopes that by the time students have completed all four sessions of this year’s pilot program they will feel a greater sense of environmental stewardship, learn how to save energy dollars and reduce energy use, and pass along money-saving knowledge to friends and family about energy conservation in Holyoke.

“With community liaisons in the Pioneer Valley, including CET, the program will develop a certification and apprenticeship program for trainees to meet the growing demand for green construction professionals skilled in energy efficiency and weatherization,” Hoque adds. Another significant benefit from her point of view is that teaching the classes is excellent experience for her graduate students. “I firmly believe the best way to learn is to teach the material yourself,” she notes.

After the four-unit pilot project is finished next fall, Hoque and colleagues plan to seek grant funding to expand the green energy job and skills training courses to include more YouthBuild students. Hoque also notes that the GED students’ coursework in mathematics and geometry, for example, could be made “instantly more relevant to the practical problems they face in the field” as they measure room and building volume or figure heat-loss percentages.

Contact: Janet Lathrop, 413/545-0444;
Simi Hoque,
Darnell Goldson,