EcoWorks has a model workforce development program that effectively considers all elements of the employee life cycle within the context of generating a marketable employee base for multiple sectors of the environmental industry, including stormwater management, ecological restoration, sustainable landscaping, the nursery industry and parks / open space management. EcoWorks broadly targets the Green Infrastructure (GI) industry with programs and has established partnerships with seven employers who interview and hire program participants. The green infrastructure industry represents 4-6% of total workforce in major cities with heavy GI programs / initiatives. This industry offers entry-level and middle-skill jobs that represent valuable on-ramps into jobs. Research from Jobs for the Future, “Exploring the Green Infrastructure Workforce” (2017) indicate that GI can be an important target for workforce development, especially to increase opportunities for low-income, low-skilled workers currently underrepresented in the workforce.” EcoWorks is uniquely positioned and has developed a strong partnership model to develop a GI workforce that meets the needs of the employers, including development of a new certificate program, the Chesapeake Bay Landscaping Professional-Associate (CBLP-A) certificate. The training program associated with the certificate nurtures a stewardship ethic in employees as relates to the landscaping industry. In addition, it is a valuable stepping stone for those early in their environmental careers. Thirty three CBLP-A certificates were provided in 2018. EcoWorks’ goal is to increase workforce placements by 60% and CBLP-A certificate provision by 50% by FY21.
EcoWorks’ approach addresses both soft and hard skill challenges faced by program participates by offering general job preparedness and knowledge through the training program along with discrete skills through a direct hands-on and applied approach. Technical training is provided such as erosion sediment control, construction techniques, surveying, plan reading, and much more. Employability measures such as confidence, problem solving, interpersonal skills, communication, planning, general awareness of and preparedness for working, and writing CVs or job applications are assessed along with increased technical knowledge and skills.
The focus of EcoWorks’ environmental work is the restoration and enhancement of ecosystem services. This is accomplished through construction of small to medium size projects that manage stormwater, habitat enhancement projects such as invasive species management, and maintenance activities such as tree planting maintenance on County stream restoration projects. EcoWorks’ goal for 2019 is to restore and enhance 10,000 sf of Howard County’s watersheds by working with communities, neighborhoods and the County itself. EcoWorks aims to increase restoration by 20% by FY21.
EcoWorks has been leading a campaign in Ellicott City called Soak It Up. Soak It Up is a community engagement campaign to encourage private residential and business landowners to be part of the flooding solution by implementing stormwater runoff reduction projects on their properties. Old Ellicott City has suffered three floods in the past eight years and mitigation at all levels is critical. The Soak It Up campaign includes a unique research component to assess the benefit of biochar amendment for runoff reduction. Biochar is an organic based charcoal burned at high temperatures in an anoxic environment. The process produces a coal with extremely high intra-pore density and therefore the ability to hold water and filter pollutants. EcoWorks is leading the way for integration of this new (but actually quite old) innovative technology.
EcoWorks is leading another campaign in Howard County called Tree HoCo. This program engages private property owners within and adjacent to the Green Infrastructure Network (GIN) in tree planting. The GIN represents the areas of highest ecological integrity in the County; its integrity in large part is due to its interconnectness. Unfortunately, the GIN has become fragmented by development and land use. Our project intends to elevate awareness of the GIN as a resource and enhance and restore function through tree planting and education.
Workforce Development and Environment
Central to all of EcoWorks’ environmental restoration activities are the plants. EcoWorks utilizes native plants in all projects. The plants are both procured from vendors and grown from seed and cuttings. EcoWorks has a goal to move towards the propagation of plants that are local ecotypes, that is, plants that are local to Howard County’s geographic province. Moving away from vendors towards growing local ecotypic plants will enhance the ecosystem service benefit of all of the projects that are put in the ground as they will provide enhanced benefits to pollinators, wildlife and the local plant genetic pool.
The native plant nursery began operation from the Corrections Department in 2016. In-mates help with tasks such as watering, potting up of plants, weeding, mulching and other nursery maintenance tasks. In-mates that volunteer in the nursery receive reduced sentences. EcoWorks estimates in-mate volunteer contribution at the nursery has resulted in a cost savings of more than $50,000 to the County. Through multiple small grants, EcoWorks expanded work at Corrections to include an in-house education program with pre-prepared curriculum called Landscapes for Life. This curriculum provides basic education on soils, water, plants and landscaping. Three classes (5 lessons/class) have been delivered over the past 1.5 years to more than 25 in-mates. Each class culminates in an outside, hands-on project such as the construction of a small garden or maintenance on the Corrections food garden that supplies fresh produce to the prison and food bank.