A Landforce crew ready for work. Photo by Renee Rosensteel.

Pittsburgh is one of three cities that has received a big grant for job training to help unemployed and under-employed residents find work.

The environmental nonprofit Landforce will receive $199,642 in the form of a Brownfields Environmental Workforce Development Job Training Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It will go toward training 38 graduates to develop the skills needed for environmental work in areas affected by polluted brownfields.

“Through this grant program, graduates develop the skills to secure full-time, well-paying, sustainable jobs in the environmental fields,” says Diana Esher of the EPA.

Graduates of the program will be trained to do everything from hazardous and solid waste management to cleanup and reuse, chemical safety, emergency response, energy efficiency, and environmental stewardship — all areas that are growing and expanding in importance.

“We believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to have a job that can support them and their families,” says Landforce Executive Director Ilyssa Manspeizer. “So we train and hire people who have been systemically marginalized — those suffering with substance abuse, mental health challenges and lack of opportunities.”

Manspeizer says Landforce provides seven weeks of training followed by five or six months of employment, as well as career coaching, to support people as they transition to future employment.

She also says that 92% of participants who complete their first season with Landforce move quickly into other jobs.

The hands-on instruction that graduates receive is key.

“Once training is complete, we work on conservation-based projects across Allegheny County,” says Manspeizer, “trail construction, habitat restoration, tree planting, tree care, garden bed installations, vacant lot improvements, and especially green infrastructure installation and maintenance.”

Since Pittsburgh is under a consent decree from the EPA to improve its water quality, green stormwater infrastructure training will be a focus.

The other two cities to receive a Brownfields Job Training Grants from the EPA were Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware. A total of 1,170 people have graduated from the training program since the its inception in Region 3 (which includes Delaware, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia).

Brownfields are industrial sites contaminated with industrial pollution, and western Pennsylvania has dozens of them. They often require many years of remediation as pollutants are removed from the soil.

Yet some of Pittsburgh’s most successful redevelopment projects started as brownfields. SouthSide Works — a $300 million mixed-use development featuring retail, offices and housing — was built atop remediated land once home to an abandoned LTV Steel mill. Summerset at Frick Park is a $250 million housing development built upon a former dump site for slag, a contaminant-laden byproduct from the steelmaking process.

The Brownfields Job Training won’t just supply trainees with the skills needed; it will help them understand why their work is so important.

“Maintenance of a green infrastructure site is never fun,” says Manspeizer. “It is a lot of weeding. It’s a lot of cleaning out basins and drainage. And in order to do it and do it with the kind of passion that you need to keep these sites successful, I think you really need to understand on a deeper level why you’re doing that kind of work.”

Installing green infrastructure to reduce flooding, for example, is a tangible thing that directly improves neighborhoods.

“For us to live in a just world on a healthy planet, we need to invest not just in our environment but in all of the people who inhabit it,” says Manspeizer.

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.