Green Collar Training and Micro-Enterprise Development

(Washington, DC) D.C. Greenworks trains local at-risk young adults in urban landscape management and associated environmental best practices and helps place them in related jobs.

Category: Training, Social Enterprise
Training programs use hands-on, project-based curricula that are designed to fit the needs of volunteer service corps, parks departments, nurseries and landscaping businesses in the area.
In order to offer additional training and more intensive instruction in job readiness skills, DCG developed a micro-enterprise program that provides training opportunities in low-impact environmental technologies such as greenroofs, rain gardens, downspout disconnection, tree planting and maintenance, riparian restoration, and permeable paving. Trainees work on DCG contracts with local government agencies, private consumers, and businesses.
By October 2005, approximately 90 people had graduated from the DCG training programs, of which 80 were placed in “green” jobs. The micro-enterprise program, which is only two years old, hires about four or five trainees each year.
D.C. Greenworks (DCG) is a nonprofit social enterprise that serves the Washington, D.C. community by providing training, tools and technologies that utilize, advance and protect the environment. Its goal, as stated on its web-site, is “to create communities of awareness – to get local citizens actively and intimately involved with their surroundings, but also with themselves and with each other.”
DCG operates three main programs:
* Greenroofs and Low-Impact Development, which provides full-service design, installation and consulting for a number of innovative environmental services and technologies, including stormwater management.
* D.C. TreeKeepers, a membership organization that trains residents to care for trees in their neighborhoods. DCG also recently developed a D.C. RainKeepers program for residents interested in saving and using rainwater from rooftops for watering trees, gardens and lawns and for washing cars and windows.
* Green Collar Job Training which offers hands-on, project-based classes in urban landscape management and environmental best practices
Green Collar Job Training Curricula and Philosophy
DCG offers two main training curricula-one in landscaping and one in arboriculture. Both tracks have beginner and advanced sections. A full listing of courses can be found of DCG’s web-site at
DCG typically offers the landscape curriculum in the Spring and the arboriculture courses in the Fall. The training lasts approximately 100 hours over a two-and-a-half week period. Classes are limited to 12 to 15 students. Both landscaping and arboriculture classes are taught by a combination of DCG staff and outside consultants.
DCG Green Collar Job Training is geared for individuals who have had little formal education. Courses are designed to provide students with practical skills, as well as to foster social skills that ease graduates’ transition into the working world. Through partnerships with local employment and social service organizations, students are introduced to job readiness skills such as timeliness, teamwork, attitude, tolerance, conflict resolution and anger management.
In addition to classroom training, students “learn by doing” in real-life work environments. Classes are both structured and flexible, allowing students to actively interact and engage in the learning process. The hands-on curriculum is taught in a learner-focused, modular style, so that training may be adapted to specific needs and interests.
All trainees must be committed to a crime-free, independent lifestyle and be sponsored by an employer, social service agency or job readiness program. When partnering with social service or youth organizations, drug testing is often a prerequisite for program enrollment. Although students acquire functional, marketable skills, they are also expected to have an interest in outdoor work, natural resource conservation and the beautification of public spaces.
If requested, DCG can adapt its training to fit the needs of specific agencies or businesses. For example, DCG has trained interns for businesses in landscaping skills as well as summer interns for programs such as AmeriCorps.
Job Placement and Retention
DCG works closely with local businesses, government agencies and employment agencies to place training graduates in “green” jobs. To date, DCG has placed 80 out of its approximately 90 graduates. Job retention, however, continues to be a serious problem. Although DCG has not formally tracked how long graduates remained in their new jobs, anecdotal information and conversations with employers indicate that job retention is poor. The main reason given is a lack of job readiness skills.
Developing a micro-enterprise
About two years ago, DCG began offering a variety of low-impact development storm-water management services, including greenroof and rain garden construction, downspout disconnection, tree planting and maintenance, riparian restoration, and permeable paving. For each of these technologies, DCG offers start-to-finish site assessment, competitive and insured design and installation, on-going consultation, maintenance and support.
DCG hires about four to five graduates each year to work for a year in its low-impact micro-enterprise component. This gives DCG an opportunity to work one-on-one in a more intensive way with trainees to help them develop the necessary skills and attitudes to make a smooth transition to the working world.
By the fall of 2005, approximately 90 people had graduated from the DCG training programs and 80 were placed in “green” jobs. The micro-enterprise, which is only two years old, hires about four or five trainees each year.
Micro-enterprise program
1. Starting a micro-enterprise program is difficult. Do not expect to make a profit right from the start.
2. Make sure your paperwork is in order. This includes issues such as insurance, licenses and labor law regulations.
3. Find a special niche that sets your organization apart. For example, DCG concentrates on installing greenroofs rather than landscaping services that are readily available elsewhere.
4. Pay attention not only to what service or product you offer but also to how you present your offerings. DCG found that potential clients are attracted not only by its products but also by the fact that local, high-risk youths and adults are employed by DCG projects. The double mission appeals to clients’ social interests; it also often helps them to meet the requirements of their sponsors. For example, some government-funded projects require or give preference to companies that employ at-risk persons and/or offer apprenticeship opportunities.
5. It is essential to have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) when partnering with another group so that roles, responsibilities and expectations are clearly stated. Make sure the MOU covers areas such as liability issues and needed waivers, as well as timeline, payment and scope of work. MOUs can be used in addition to contracts or, in some cases, in lieu of formal contracts.
1. It is important to keep a low student-teacher ratio. DCG tries to keep its ratio close to six to one. This is especially important when you are working with a population that has not had success in traditional education programs.
2. Hands-on, experiential learning is the best way to teach urban landscape management and associated environmental best practices. DCG curricula are over 70 percent hands-on applied learning. All the training modules result in completed projects.
3. Job retention is very difficult when working with youth and adults who do not have a history of employment. DCG has been able to place about 95 percent of its graduates in jobs but has discovered that the job retention has been poor. This population often needs instruction and practice on basic job readiness skills such as timeliness, teamwork and anger management as well as specific skill training. One of the main reasons DCG began its micro-enterprise activities was to be able offer additional training and experience in job readiness skills to its graduates.
Contact Information:
Dawn Gifford, Executive Director
D.C. Greenworks
1701 6th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20009
Phone: (202) 518-6195
Fax: (202) 518-5507
(c) 2005 Alliance for Community Trees