GreenPOWER trains workers for new energy economy


Minnesota is the site of an innovative, new training program designed to equip workers with the power – with the GreenPOWER – to succeed in a new-energy economy. The program, expected to train 2,000 workers by December 2011, celebrated its first class of graduates Oct. 1 in Blaine. The GreenPOWER training program, launched by the Blue Green Alliance in January, is free of charge and open to both employed and unemployed workers. It is tailored to workers looking to succeed in energy-efficient retrofitting, the renewable-energy industry or green manufacturing. 

Brant Ingalsbe, director of the program, said early response – from unions, from businesses and from agencies that serve dislocated workers – has been encouraging, with more than 200 enrollees since trainings began in July.

“We often hear about a ‘green fad’ in the media, but these businesses and these unions see this as not a fad, but as reality,” Ingalsbe said. “Businesses are saying, ‘We want our workforce to be educated in (energy efficiency), and I see how this knowledge is going to save me money or make me money.'”

The Blue Green Alliance, a nationwide labor-environmental partnership seeking to grow jobs in the green-energy economy, won a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to implement GreenPOWER in three regions of Minnesota: the Iron Range, Metro and Southwest Minnesota.

A 48-hour course that spans six days of training, GreenPOWER features dynamic trainers from four unions – the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Service Employees International Union, the Sheet Metal Workers and the United Steelworkers – as well as the Blue Green Alliance Foundation and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

At the celebration Friday in Blaine, members of the first graduating class praised GreenPOWER’s curriculum, developed at Purdue University, as both informative and compelling.

“It can sound like it would be boring, but it was anything but,” said Don Fancher, who works in manufacturing and inventory.

Fancher’s classmate, Milton Dale, said trainings involved both “sit-and-listen learning” and “physical, hands-on demonstrations, opportunities to put into practice what you were immediately learning.”

During a lesson in “dumpster diving,” Dale said, trainees literally climbed into a trash receptacle and sifted through the discarded items to determine which could be reused, recycled or otherwise spared from the landfill.

“It’s looking for the low-bearing fruit,” said Dale, who works in information technology. “You can get a lot of benefits out of energy efficiency, and it doesn’t cost a lot, especially in equipment and energy savings and lowering the environmental footprint.

“There are a lot of opportunities to have a big impact.”

Shawn Bergstrom, one GreenPOWER trainer, said completing the program will greatly enhance workers’ resumes – and Bergstrom would know. She used to work in the human resources department of a high-tech manufacturing company.

“What certification doesn’t look good on a resume?” Bergstrom said. “These workers are adding skill sets and tools and knowledge – and hopefully a lot of enthusiasm to offer up a ton of ideas for how their employer can be more sustainable, and how these ideas can be beneficial to a company’s bottom line.

“Too many companies think they can’t be sustainable, be green because it costs too much money. Our program proves that is wrong.”

Indeed, Grant Heino, another worker in GreenPOWER’s first class of graduates, said he plans to “take this information, turn it into practical information and go out into the trenches of manufacturing, and turn these companies not just theoretically green, but actually green.”

More information about GreenPOWER, including enrollment information, is at Workers can also ask their local unions or their dislocated-worker counselors for more information.

Michael Moore edits The Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation. Learn more at