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U.S. Labor Secretary visits Peralta

Tour trumpets jobs-training initiative

By Rachel Weaver
On October 25, 2012


The United States Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, addressed a room full of individuals ready to do their part to improve the economy and the lives of others, at Berkeley City College Oct. 18.

Solis was the keynote speaker at the Emerald Cities Collaborative (ECC) National Community College Sustainable Development Initiative Launch, sponsored in part by the Peralta Community Colleges District (PCCD).

Solis had been touring the country since mid-September. She was visiting community colleges to "highlight the important role community colleges are playing in reshaping America's job training programs to strengthen the nation's workforce," she wrote in her blog.

Solis was visiting recipients of the Trade Adjustment Act Community College Career Training grant. She announced on Sept. 19 that $500 million in grants would go to community colleges and universities to develop and expand job-training programs.    

In her keynote address, Solis told participants her tour "has been good for the soul. The innovation happening at these community colleges across the country right now is nothing short of amazing. I've never met a more determined, driven group of Americans than the students I've met over the last month."

The two-day event, which culminated with a campus tour and media event at Laney College, launched the ECC's initiative to "position community colleges as leaders in addressing the environmental, economic and social equity challenges of metropolitan regions," according to their website.  

The ECC is a national nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C. with affiliates across the country, including San Francisco and Oakland. Their goal is to build cities, green communities, and strengthen democracy. The organization works on funding, staffing, and supporting numerous projects, including the community college initiative taking place within the PCCD.    

The initiative concentrates on four key areas - campus sustainability, workforce development and community education, green technology business incubation, and sustainable community development. After gathering on Thursday to discuss the initiative, investors, PCCD faculty and staff, and the press, came together at the media event Friday to discuss the ECC's investment in the Building Efficiency for a Sustainable Tomorrow (BEST) center at Laney.

PCCD trustee Abel Guillen spoke at the event of the partnership between Emerald Cities and Peralta. "What we do best is we partner...without community colleges we don't know where our economy would be; community colleges are under attack."  Guillen said everyone should be concerned about the upcoming election. There is a possibility of drastic budget cuts, which could affect job programs, student intake, and class availability at community colleges, especially those in the Peralta district.

Peter Turnbull, the Commercial Buildings and Zero Net Energy Program Manager at Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), spoke afterwards of his company's involvement with the BEST center and why they decided to support it. "Each year we dedicate $400 million to promote energy efficiency projects, such as the BEST building. We recognized the need for workforce training around energy efficiency...and community colleges are really key to that effort."

Speaking with the Tower afterwards, Turnbull said, "PG&E found it really important (Peralta) put this program together. What really struck us was the support of the pedagogical programs."  Turnbull was speaking of the BEST center's enormous classroom-settings and housing-like environments that will allow the Carpentry and Environmental Control Technology departments to significantly develop their job programs.

Laney President Elñora Webb spoke to the crowd after Turnbull's address and an update from Charles Neal, Peralta's energy and environmental sustainability manager.  She was proud of Peralta's partnership with Emerald Cities. She spoke of the leadership the ECC brought to the community.

"I cannot say enough. You are inspirational, you remind us that hope is for a reason, and it's not some esoteric entity that's conceptualized-it's actualized. Thank you for your leadership, it's invaluable." 

The mood Thursday and Friday was decidedly optimistic. And while the motto of many was "Are we doing all that we can do?" Everyone present was eager to agree with Solis.  

"We're seeing what happens when we make smart investments in community colleges to bring together employers, educators, workforce professionals, industry experts and non-profit groups to train our modern workforce. These investments pay off," Solis shared.

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