Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Single mothers in Missoula will soon have a track to employment in clean energy after the city and the U.S. Department of Labor launch a new workforce training and development program.

From a field of 250 applicants, Missoula emerged as one of 16 cities in the U.S. to land the federal Good Jobs, Great Cities grant. With the assistance of DOL, each city will take a different role in advancing jobs in clean energy, and Missoula will focus on single mothers.

“The program we're looking to pilot is to create a pathway for clean-energy jobs for young mothers,” Mayor Jordan Hess told the Missoula Current. “They're well-paying jobs in the trades. We're going to need a significant number of electricians, plumbers, energy auditors, and all sorts of different careers as we transition to new energy forms.”

Hess made the city's successful grant application public during a forum of mayoral candidates this week when panelists were asked what the city can do to advance its efforts on climate change. Those goals include 100% clean electricity, zero waste, and to greatly curb tailpipe emissions, among others.

Mountain Line is also shifting to an all-electric fleet, and other opportunities may come from the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act. The two laws include investments in workforce training in clean energy, which may soon have an abundance of jobs.

“There's a lot of opportunity through the infrastructure law to provide supportive employment services or workforce development programs,” Hess said. “We can work with our local unions to provide apprenticeship programs. Our contractors in the same way.”

Each city that received a Good Jobs, Great Cities grant will take a different track in workforce development. Missoula had already established a partnership with Mountain Home Montana – a local organization that providers shelter for young mothers and a support network – and opted to build a program around it.

In many cases, Hess said, Mountain Home takes in expecting mothers right out of the foster care system with little or no workforce history. Mountain Home joined Hess, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, the Missoula Economic Partnership and the county in traveling to Washington D.C. to begin building the workforce training program.

Caroline Bean, the county's climate action manager, was a member of the delegation.

“Our goal is to connect Mountain Home moms with livable-wage careers, and to support our larger vision of empowering more women to enter Montana's clean energy workforce,” said Bean. “If we can build a model that accommodates the barriers these moms face, we'll be benefiting everyone by reducing barriers for all workers across our state to enter the trades.”

Under the grant program, the 16 selected cities will partner with DOL to launch a job-training program. Each city has a different focus and, in the end, the Labor Department will look to expand those new programs to cities across the country.

Nicole Rush, the deputy director of Missoula Economic Partnership, also joined the delegation. The new training program in clean energy checks all the right boxes and at just the right time, she said.

“We know there’s a shortage of skilled laborers to support local infrastructure projects and the transition to clean energy in Missoula,” said Rush. “Our coalition brings together representatives from social services, climate policy, economic development, industry, and local government to do the important work of preparing our community for a future where industry, clean energy and equity come together to build a diverse workforce.”

Hess said representatives from DOL have a site visit planned in Missoula.

“As we grapple with the effects of the climate crisis, we are going to have to fundamentally change our economy in the coming decades and train workers for jobs that haven't been invented yet,” Hess said. “Our economy is so different than it was two decades ago. Being nimble, supporting workforce development and supporting business growth is all part of our housing solution.”