Two years ago presidential candidate Barack Obama promised that he would create 5 million green jobs and was elected president  less tha a month later based on the country’s dissatisfaction with George Bush and the hope that he wasn’t just spinning another empty campaign promise.

Thanks partly to an overeager candidate and a brutal recession Obama has struggled to keep that promise and nowhere is that more eveident than in Ocala, Florida where workers that were retrained for green jobs with stimulus money are still waiting for them to materialize.

From the Washington Post

After losing his way in the old economy, Laurance Anton tried to assure his place in the new one by signing up for green jobs training earlier this year at his local community college.

Anton has been out of work since 2008, when his job as a surveyor vanished with Florida’s once-sizzling housing market. After a futile search, at age 56 he reluctantly returned to school to learn the kind of job skills the Obama administration is wagering will soon fuel an employment boom: solar installation, sustainable landscape design, recycling and green demolition.

Anton said the classes, funded with a $2.9 million federal grant to Ocala’s workforce development organization, have taught him a lot. He’s learned how to apply Ohm’s law, how to solder tiny components on circuit boards and how to disassemble rather than demolish a building.

The only problem is that his new skills have not resulted in a single job offer. Officials who run Ocala’s green jobs training program say the same is true for three-quarters of their first 100 graduates.

“I think I have put in 200 applications,” said Anton, who exhausted his unemployment benefits months ago and now relies on food stamps and his dwindling savings to survive. “I’m long past the point where I need some regular income.”

With nearly 15 million Americans out of work and the unemployment rate hovering above 9 percent for 18 consecutive months, policymakers desperate to stoke job creation have bet heavily on green energy. The Obama administration channeled more than $90 billion from the $814 billion economic stimulus bill into clean energy technology, confident that the investment would grow into the economy’s next big thing.

The infusion of money is going to projects such as weatherizing public buildings and constructing advanced battery plants in the industrial Midwest, financing solar electric plants in the Mojave desert and training green energy workers.

But the huge federal investment has run headlong into the stubborn reality that the market for renewable energy products – and workers – remains in its infancy. The administration says that its stimulus investment has saved or created 225,000 jobs in the green energy industry, a pittance in an economy that has shed 7.5 million jobs since the recession took hold in December 2007.

The industry’s growth has been undercut by the simple economic fact that fossil fuels remain cheaper than renewables. Both Obama administration officials and green energy executives say that the business needs not just government incentives, but also rules and regulations that force people and business to turn to renewable energy.

Without government mandates dictating how much renewable energy utilities must use to generate electricity, or placing a price on the polluting carbon emitted by fossil fuels, they say, green energy cannot begin to reach its job creation potential.

“Green energy investment has been a central talking point of the Obama administration’s job growth strategy,” said Samuel Sherraden, a policy analyst at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research organization. “It was a little bit too ambitious given the size and depth of the recession and the small size of the renewable energy industry.”

Sherraden said it was unwise for the administration to invest so heavily in green energy, at least if short-term job creation was the goal. He said green energy comes with “political and market uncertainty” that has overwhelmed its job creation potential.

Despite that, Obama has described the surge of clean energy spending as crucial both to the nation’s economic and environmental future.

“Our future as a nation depends on making sure that the jobs and industries of the 21st century take root here in America,” Obama said in October. “And there is perhaps no industry with more potential to create jobs now – and growth in the coming years – than clean energy.”

But other administration officials acknowledge that it is likely to be years before the spending on green energy produces large numbers of jobs. And they add that only part of the money earmarked for green energy has been spent. They also agree that the government will have to help create demand to support green energy.

Still, they are optimistic for the long term, even if the spending will not significantly ease the nation’s unemployment crisis in the short run.

Anton isn’t the only one wating for a job.

Carols Arandia, 59, has earned seven green jobs certificates since beginning classes this year, while renting a room from a friend to weather the hard times.

Often studying well into the night, Arandia is familiar with hard work. He ran a small manufacturing business in his native Venezuela before arriving in the United States in 1996. For years, he lugged around a dictionary and a notebook in which he religiously wrote down words and phrases until his English became passable. He worked seven years at Boston Chicken. Later, he sold cars.

But now, after nearly two years of being out of work and a series of classes that have not led to a job, his optimism is dimming.

“What is the point of giving somebody the tools to do something but to have nowhere to use them?” he asked. “I think it’s a great program, but I don’t see the connection with all the training and jobs. And I need a job.”

Christine Bageant, 45, also jumped at the opportunity to train in green jobs, after losing her position at the county library. She viewed the new classes as an opportunity to “get in on the ground floor of something big.”

Since then she has earned similar training certificates as Arandia. A few months ago she started looking for work as a painter. She thought her newly acquired expertise in abating lead paint would make her a hot commodity.

But many of the painting contractors she has interviewed with are tiny companies, with no more than two or three employees. They are struggling to survive, and Bageant’s expertise in lead abatement has left them unimpressed.

“Right now they are blowing it off,” she shrugged. “They don’t think it’s important.”

Officials who helped develop the training program nod knowingly when asked about the difficulty graduates are having landing jobs.

“I think this is a great program,” said Peter J. Tesch, president and chief executive of the Ocala/Marion County Economic Development Corp. “Applying it to real life, that is the challenge. In a place like Florida everybody’s talking the talk, but they’re not walking the walk. The market place has not caught up to the technical training and skill sets that have been provided these people.”

That much was obvious at a recent ceremony for 15 graduates of a solar electric training class. The students beamed proudly as family members took pictures and program officials offered words of wisdom.

Then, one-by-one, they walked up front to receive their certificates. But rather than serving as a passport to a job, the certificates were more like IOUs to be redeemed sometime in the distant future.

Ocala’s goal was to create 665 jobs in the renewable energy industry but to date graduates of the program are no better off than they were before despite their training.

“There is significant job creation potential in clean energy. But it is not revealing itself quickly or clearly,” said Jerone Gamble, executive manager of continuing education at the College of Central Florida, and a chief architect of the green jobs training program. “In the time being, we’re really selling hope.”

While it would have been difficult to predict the depth of the recession he should have known that the green jobs depends on a combination of government regulations, a relatively healthy economy and lots of federal subsidies to make solar and wind energy attractive to homeowners and businesses.

And you can’t put a solar panel on a foreclosed home which there is an abundance of in Florida so the very idea that Ocala is still bothering to train people for non-existent jobs shows what a waste of taxpayer money this program has been.

The graduates shouldn’t set their sights too high because as Jerone Gamble said in the article, they are “selling hope” much like Obama did two years ago to the American public.  And we all know how well that turned out.

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