Tom Friedman, in his October 17 column in the New York Times, describes a compelling idea for bringing inner city disadvantaged youth into the workforce and giving them the opportunity to develop highly marketable skills. He calls this the “green-collar solution”. He quotes Van Jones, head of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, California:

If we can get these youth in on the ground floor of the solar industry now, where they can be installers today, they’ll become managers in five years and owners in 10. Ann then they become inventors,” said Mr. Jones. “The green economy has the power to deliver new sources of work, wealth and health to low-income people – while honoring the Earth. If you can do that, you just wiped out a whole bunch of problems. We can make what is good for poor black kids good for the polar bears and good for the country.

Van Jones’ plea is another way (see my post about Marriott on 10/14/07) that companies can fulfill their responsibility to bring disadvantaged, urban youth into long-term, high paying careers, which benefits employers and their communities. The green energy industry is growing rapidly. The demand for green buildings is skyrocketing and the cost of alternative energy solutions is coming down precipitously. We need to make this window of opportunity open to all young people. This will take the cooperation of the construction trades, contractors, architects, post-secondary training institutions and construction buyers. Each has a role to play in ensuring that disadvantaged high school graduates develop the needed skills, are welcomed into high paying jobs, and that they continue to learn and grow in this new field.