Old pollution sites may be the key to new job opportunities in Wilmington.
Wilmington residents with limited resources will have the opportunity to receive free job training in the environmental industry this fall, thanks to a $192,300 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The city’s Brownfields Workforce Development and Job Training Coalition will use the EPA grant to recruit, train and find employment for minority, unemployed and underemployed adults, including veterans and those with criminal backgrounds.
Wilmington City Councilman Darius Brown, D-District 3, announced the grant during a press conference Wednesday.
“This is a great day,” he said. “We want to put more residents in city of Wilmington to work.”
The grant is funded by the EPA’s workforce development program, which offers residents in communities affected by brownfields and other environmental issues the opportunity to become employed in careers that reduce environmental contamination and provide more sustainable futures for the community.
“We want to make sure that we have people trained who live in the communities and have the ability to take advantage of those opportunities and at same time clean up the environment,” said Shawn Garvin, regional administrator for the EPA.
“There’s a lot of jobs out there, and we need to fill those positions and we want to make sure the local community have opportunities to take advantage of that.”
Coalition members involved in the project include the West End Neighborhood House, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Delaware Technical Community College and Brightfields Environmental services, Inc. The Coalition is one of 19 entities nationwide to receive the grant this year.
The program is important to local residents because it provides skills for jobs that are readily available and have a starting wage of $14 an hour, said Paul Calistro, executive director of the West End Neighborhood House.
“Seventy percent of jobs in the State pay $10 an hour or less. That is not a livable wage. People cannot cover their housing, electric and other costs,” he said.
“We think this field has great potential. If you’re starting at $14 an hour you can work your way up to $20 an hour and support your family.”
As many as 70 local residents will be accepted into the training program. Those who complete an orientation, which includes an aptitude test and a drug screening, will be enrolled in classes at Delaware Technical Community College, tuition free.
Trainees who complete their Del Tech education courses could emerge with training or certifications in various career professions, such as field soil and groundwater sampler, water or wastewater treatment plant operator, hazardous materials technician, lead and asbestos abatement worker and forklift operator.
Garvin said the program will be a huge benefit to the local economy. He said 72 percent of people who go through the program will find post-training employment.
“That’s going to have a huge benefit not only to those households but the community as a whole,” Garvin said.
“You’re going to have people who are not back into the workforce and in a job that’s better than the one they had, as well as creating opportunities for redevelopment that will create other jobs for the community.”
The program also directly benefits the health of Wilmington residents. One third of the city has been environmentally impacted due to the many industrial business over the past 250 years, according to the Delaware Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
“This is the air we breathe, it’s how we live and we have to create livable neighborhoods,” Brown said. “And in doing so through this project we are able to educate the population that is directly impacted by pollution.”