Bioworks Foundation Wins $200,000 EPA Grant

By Don Wade

Memphis Bioworks is one of 18 grantees for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training (EWDJT) program.

The EPA made the announcement on Monday, May 12, and each grant is worth $200,000.

“We’re thrilled,” said Pauline Vernon, director of workforce development at Memphis Bioworks.

The Memphis Bioworks Foundation “Clean & Green” training program is designed to provide support for the city of Memphis Clean and Green Initative. The grant will provide training for 75 students and is the second EPA/EWDJT grant Memphis Bioworks has received. A $300,000 grant issued in 2012 provided training for 110 persons, 65 of whom already have been placed in full-time jobs.

The aim of the grant is to help unemployed, underemployed (including veterans), minority and mainly low-income persons acquire the necessary skills for full-time jobs in the environmental field.

Community and business partners assisting with the training program include: Workforce Investment Network; Ensafe; Everblue; city of Memphis; Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation; Shelby County Extension; Memphis Light, Gas & Water; EnviroRem, Inc.; city of Memphis Public Works; American Red Cross; Siemens Building Technologies; and other Clean & Green private contractors.

“A key aspect of the success of the program is the partnership between grantees and the private sector to design curricula based on local markets with an eye toward hiring graduates, which is why there is a 71 percent placement rate,” said Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator. “We link our investment in communities with brownfields to enable residents from lower-income communities that surround many of these sites with training opportunities.”

Through the first grant, Vernon said they had better than a 90 percent completion and retainment rate with those persons who began formal training.

Nationally, the average hourly starting wage for graduates is $14. Among the areas in which graduates across the country will be trained and learn skills: recycling, brownfields, assessment and cleanup, wastewater treatment, storm water management, emergency response, oil spill cleanup, solar installation, and Superfund site remediation.

Since the EWDJT program started in 1998, the EPA has funded 239 job-training grants totaling more than $50 million. More than 12,800 people have completed training. Of those who have completed training, more than 9,100 have obtained employment in the environmental field.