SACRAMENTO — California’s forested, rural communities are suffering from record-breaking wildfires that burned 2.5 million acres and destroyed multiple communities in 2021 alone. To create well-paying jobs and improve forest health and fire safety, the Sierra Nevada and Cascade regions have received $21.5 million for a project that will strengthen the infrastructure for workforce development and increase access to those jobs for local community members from all backgrounds.
The project, funded by the federal Good Jobs Challenge, is being rolled out by the Foundation for California Community Colleges, California State University Chico, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Sierra Business Council.
“There is so much work to be done in California to increase the resilience of forests and communities to wildfires and climate change, and there are just not enough trained workers to do all this work,” said Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor for the Central Sierra. “A recent assessment estimated upcoming shortages of 6,000 fire managers, 4,000 conservation scientists and foresters, 7,000 loggers and 1,500 utility line clearance technicians. California desperately needs skilled workers to fill those jobs to protect and rebuild communities in rural parts of the state. And these are well-paying jobs with benefits.”
The four-year project will help train and place qualified workers into high-quality jobs in the forestry sector, responding to urgent needs to build economic and climate resilience in California’s forested, rural communities. Five community colleges – Butte College, Feather River College, Lake Tahoe Community College, Reedley College and Shasta College – California State University Chico, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Sierra Business Council are partnering on the project. This group has proven experience delivering effective workforce-training programs in partnership with industry and communities.
The emerging forestry and fire-safety sector has the potential to grow into a $39 billion industry. By working to recruit, support and train local community members in partnership with Hispanic-serving institutions, Indigenous-led partners and other community-based organizations, the project will expand the industry’s talent pool while diversifying the field.
The “California Resilient Careers in Forestry” project is being awarded one of 32 grants from the $500 million Good Jobs Challenge funded by President Biden’s American Rescue Plan and administered by the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration.
“We are honored to be selected as one of the Good Jobs Challenge award recipients alongside a talented group of partners serving rural communities, including several of our California community colleges,” said Keetha Mills, president of the Foundation for California Community Colleges. “This work is critical to help Californians access good jobs, especially as we help our state respond to the urgent needs of climate change and support economic growth in regions greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters.”