The first class of twenty students has just graduated from a new green jobs training program at Union County Vocational Technical High School. The course, which is offered statewide, prepares students for high-demand careers in residential weatherization and related work in energy conservation.

The program is called the New Jersey Weatherization Training Program. It is funded by a grant from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the Department of Community Affairs.

"This training program is an important part of Union County's efforts to build a workforce that takes advantage of new career opportunities in the emerging green economy," said Daniel P. Sullivan, Chairman of the Union County Freeholder Board. "We are very proud of our first graduates, who are helping to lead the way to a new energy future."

The state training program dovetails with a federal effort to stimulate the job market in energy conservation, by providing low income households with grants for home energy improvements. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 2.9 million homes in New Jersey are in need of weatherization, with the potential to create more than 18,000 jobs.

"County vo-tech schools are in the business of preparing workers for the jobs of today and tomorrow," said Thomas J. Bistocchi, Superintendent of the Union County Vo-Tech Schools. "Weatherization and other green collar careers are going to continue to be fields of growth during the upcoming decade."

The training program is a partnership between the NJ Building Laborers Training and Apprenticeship Fund, the Black Ministers Council of NJ, the NJ Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools, the State Employment Training Commission, the Workforce Investment Boards, and Laborers International Union local 55.

"Our participants leave us job-ready and prepared to work in a field that is expected to see tremendous growth," said Don Howard, director of the NJ Building Laborers Training and Apprenticeship Fund.

In addition to serving energy conservation goals, the program aims to provide new employment opportunities to residents of distressed urban areas. As part of the program, graduates receive job placement assistance with local contractors or weatherization programs.

"The Black Ministers Council is extremely proud of this graduating class of trained weatherization technicians. This program is important to underserved communities because it provides job opportunities that will help to sustain families," said Rev. Reginald T. Jackson, executive director of the Black Minister's Council.

Statewide, the program will serve 600 students over the next 18 months. The course is focused on foundational training that graduates can apply to career development. Graduates also receive professional certification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Laborers International Union.