Beyond the Cover—Q&A with Chuck Watkins, Veterans Green Jobs

The latest cover (right) of Home Energy features a photo of a man named Scott Willingham. Scott is pictured while working as part of the Veterans Green Jobs program, which trains veterans to work in the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), as well as other green jobs.

That cover photo leads readers to a story about how weatherizing homes makes them healthier to live in. What that story does not tell you is how Veterans Green Jobs helps to engage, transition, and connect military veterans with meaningful employment opportunities that serve our communities and environment. Needless to say, we here at Home Energy were eager to learn more. Below is a conversation we had with Chuck Watkins, director of Denver operations for Veterans Green Jobs.

Q&A with Chuck Watkins, Veterans Green Jobs

Home Energy: What does Veterans Green Jobs do and why?

Chuck Watkins: Founded in 2008, Veterans Green Jobs is a nonprofit organization that aims to place 300 veterans into green jobs by mid-2013. It will achieve this through one-on-one career counseling that leads to full-time employment with companies in the green economic sector, and through seasonal employment opportunities in outdoor conservation and wildland firefighting. Veterans Green Jobs’ major areas of focus include energy efficiency/conservation; renewable/clean energy; green construction/building; natural resources/outdoor conservation; environmental remediation/response; and sustainable agriculture.

Veterans Green Jobs believes that by equipping our nation’s military veterans with transferable skills, tools and resources, and helping them reintegrate into society with meaningful jobs, we will enable them to maintain their sense of service, give back to their community, and contribute to a healthy, sustainable and secure future for themselves and their families.

The national unemployment rate for the more than two million post-9/11 veterans is far above the national average. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in June 2012, of those veterans who have served since 2001, 12.7% were unemployed in May, and the youngest (18-24 years of age) are unemployed at a rate of 23.5%. More than one million veterans are projected to leave the military between 2011 and 2016, placing increased demands on the workforce.

In Colorado alone in 2011, 49,000 veterans (out of 475,000 total veterans in the state) sought employment assistance with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, but this represents only a portion of the veterans needing employment. Additionally, there are some 21,000 recent veterans attending institutions of higher education in Colorado. These numbers only represent one state; the problem persists throughout the nation and must be addressed.

HE: How many people have already been given work through VGJ?

CW: Veterans Green Jobs has served more than 500 veterans since its 2008 founding. That number continues to grow as the organization solidifies partnerships and expands its programs.

HE: I read that your organization weatherizes an average of 1,200 homes per year—what is the training like for your weatherization crews?

CW: Veterans Green Jobs implements an on-the-job training model where less experienced staff are mentored by seasoned professionals with full licensing and certifications. The nonprofit has partnered with BPI to provide certifications to Veterans Green Jobs staff.  This training has online, classroom, and field components. Local partners such as Red Rocks Community College enhance Veterans Green Jobs’ training model. 

Weatherization is one part of Veterans Green Jobs’ “green and healthy homes program,” which provides a whole host of energy efficiency, health and safety services to income-qualified homes in Denver and Jefferson County in Colorado. Since 2009, Veterans Green Jobs has provided weatherization services, under a contract with the Colorado Energy Office, to an average of 1,200 homes per year in these areas in addition to Colorado’s San Luis Valley. In 2011, the nonprofit joined a national coalition, the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, to expand its services and serve even more homes. Veterans Green Jobs’ green and healthy homes program offers a range of home performance services that address all major household energy concerns and health risks such issues as asbestos, indoor air quality, lead, mold, radon, and safety.

In addition to providing free energy efficiency services by leveraging federal funding provided by DOE under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Veterans Green Jobs is diversifying its delivery model to include services for a fee. With a strategy to produce sustainable sources of income for the nonprofit in the post-ARRA era, Veterans Green Jobs now offers heating, ventilation and air conditioning services, and residential solar installation services, to homeowners in the Denver market.

HE: What other “green” jobs do you provide?

CW: The organization is currently exploring expanding services and training in residential solar installation. It also has a program in eight western U.S. states that provides wildland fire mitigation and outdoor conservation work in our country’s national forests—while providing skills and certification to create a career pathway in natural resources for veterans. Finally, the organization launched a signature program in early 2012 that has the potential to help thousands of veterans find meaningful work in the green jobs sector. This employment program matches veterans’ military experience to the skills needed by green sector employers, links them to training programs to provide them with skills in key subject areas, and connects them with available jobs.

HE: As far as energy efficiency goes, what do you think is the most important thing to focus on for the future of our homes?

CW: Consumer behavior is without a doubt the single biggest factor in energy consumption, so Veterans Green Jobs wraps educational outreach around all of its program offerings. In terms of return on investment, insulation and tightening a home gives the biggest return. In high energy cost areas like California, Hawaii and the North East, renewable energy is becoming more and more important and a standard way to combat volatile energy prices. 

Learn more about Veterans Green Jobs on their website.

This blog originally appeared on HomeEnergy.org.

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