Driving Equitable Employment Outcomes through Cross-Sector Collaboration

Posted by Jeremy Hays on

At Green For All, our work is all about helping the green economy grow. But we also want it to grow right. Our vision is for a world with cleaner air and water, but also greater equity and shared prosperity. We want to make sure that emerging green industries and programs don’t just create jobs—we want them to create good jobs and pathways out of poverty.

We have a chance to make sure that the folks who are often shut out of the economy, like people of color, veterans, women, and ex-offenders, become part of the fabric of emerging green industries. And one of the best ways to do that is by implementing High Road Strategies through cross-sector stakeholder collaboration.

This focus on quality jobs and equitable access to opportunity is familiar territory for people and groups that work on poverty, employment, and community development issues. But many in the nonprofit environmental sector are just starting to learn about the importance of connecting jobs and environment strategies. Green For All’s High Road approach convenes diverse stakeholders to collaborate on some simple steps to produce significant environmental, economic and social benefits.

High Road Strategies ensure that projects and investments create quality work, good jobs, and equitable access to opportunities. But taking the high road isn’t just a way to create pathways out of poverty—it’s one of the best tools we have to advance the growth of the green economy. By making sure that projects benefit local and disadvantaged communities, High Road Strategies give us bigger returns on our economic development dollars. But they also do more than that--they build a stronger, broader network of support to expand the green economy and make it more resilient. You can’t create High Road agreements without bringing a diverse group of stakeholders to the table—from labor unions to politicians to disadvantaged businesses. And once these stakeholders are invested in a project, its odds for success multiply exponentially. We’ve helped form high road agreements for a number of sectors – from energy efficiency to green stormwater infrastructure. Regardless of the sector, High Road Strategies share the key elements of high quality work, high quality jobs, and broad access to opportunity for diverse businesses and workers.

One of our most successful experiences in creating High Road Strategies was our collaboration on Clean Energy Works Oregon, an energy efficiency program. Using examples from Oregon to help illustrate, below are 5 steps we found as essential in the High Roads process.

1. Pull together a diverse group of stakeholders. Stakeholders include small and large contractors and representatives from contractors’ associations, along with community organizing groups, labor unions, workforce development groups, public agencies, lenders, and utilities. One of the benefits we saw in Oregon was that the collaboration built social capital among diverse stakeholders, which was then applied to winning a city-wide equitable contracting policy some time later.

2. Agree on collective goals. In Oregon, stakeholders agreed on goals that included paying good wages to workers, making 80 percent of hires locally, ensuring that disadvantaged and underrepresented workers completed at least 30 percent of the hours worked on the project, and directing 20 percent of contract dollars to disadvantaged businesses. We also wanted to ensure a highly-skilled workforce and quality contractors, which would create a better work product—in this case ensuring that energy efficiency upgrades really worked and lasted. In the Oregon example, Green For All and other leaders worked together over several weeks to develop goals, strategies, and metrics, which were ultimately endorsed by the city council.

3. Agree on specific strategies for meeting them. Of course, it’s not enough just to set goals. We’ve found that effective strategies usually draw on a combination of incentives, requirements, and support. The Oregon effort, for example, required that contractors pay 180 percent of minimum wage and also offered contractors technical support and business coaching. The program also used a contractor application that awarded points for a range of qualities in order to help recruit diverse businesses and workers and increase the quality of the work. We rolled out the pilot in phases and had contractors reapply for each phase. We adjusted the point system between procurements to ensure that the pool for each phase was well positioned to help us reach our goals.

4. Agree on how you’ll measure progress. You won’t know if you’re making progress towards your goal unless you measure progress. In this case, we collected data on things like the number of homes upgraded, the number of workers trained, the wages paid, and the types of workers and businesses participating in the program. This data helped us know whether we were on track to reach our goals. If the data showed that we were not on track, then we adjusted the strategies – incentives, requirements, and supports – to get the outcomes to head in the right direction. This was essential to establishing accountability for the Mayor-appointed Stakeholder Evaluation and Implementation Committee, which was responsible for helping the program reach its goals. It also helped hold individual contractors and training programs accountable to their commitments.

5. Agree on a collaborative process for evaluating progress and making necessary adjustments. With Clean Energy Works Oregon, a mayor-appointed Stakeholder Evaluation and Implementation Committee met monthly to crunch numbers and track the progress of the energy efficiency program. The committee was able to identify and resolve problems quickly, which contributed to the effort’s ultimate success. The program not only met its goals, but exceeded them. And it drew broad support from stakeholders while establishing a foundation for future citywide and statewide policy offerings.

These are just a few of the guiding principles we’ve learned from working on a variety of projects with many different kinds of stakeholders. But one thing we have consistently observed is that the collaborations themselves create new, on-going relationships that help advance subsequent projects or initiatives.

For more information on High Road Agreements, click here.

Jeremy Hays is Chief Strategist for State and Local Initiatives at Green For All