@WorldChanging - Training the Green Collar Workforce: A Role for Community Colleges
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by Jen Biederman on 03/19/2009
WorldChanging.com Articles: Tools, Models and Ideas for Building a Better Future.
Political support is only the beginning. A key issue will be sourcing the workers that can produce and manage clean energy. Many fields require more boots on the ground per kWh than fossil energy sources. For example, in 2008 the number of workers employed in the US wind industry jumped to 85,000, surpassing the 81,000 currently needed to mine coal, even though wind power currently provides only a fraction of the electricity in the US that coal does. According to this University of Massachusetts study, (PDF) investing in projects such as wind power and mass transit creates three to four times more jobs than the same spending directed towards the coal industry.
And training these workers is more complicated than pointing Joe the Plumber towards a solar water heater. The National Council for Workforce Education, in a recent report with the Academy for Educational Development titled Going Green: The Vital Role of Community Colleges in Building a Sustainable Future and Green Workforce (PDF), points out:
[M]any jobs that are currently, or predicted to be, in demand are ‘middle-skilled' jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor's degree. It is important to note that although there will be a growing number of new green occupations requiring new knowledge, skills, and abilities, it is expected that the majority will be transformed from existing jobs, requiring a redefinition of skill sets, methods, and occupational profiles.
The report goes on to say that community colleges are an ideal place to begin offering such training, since existing vocational programs can be modified, rather than starting from scratch. Fast-growing fields such as energy efficiency, renewable energy and alternative fuels are particularly unable to wait for the development of entirely new programs. Courses already exist at several US schools, including Santa Fe Community College, Great Basin College, Cuyahoga Community College, Central Carolina Community College, and Lansing Community College.
"Community colleges fill a very different role than the other higher education institutions," says Jay Antle, Sustainability Committee Chair at Johnson County Community College. "The real difference is that the research institutions are inventing and perfecting the technology that community college-trained workers will install and service."
So, where will the money to fund these training programs come from? As much as $75 billion of the new stimulus bill has implications for the higher education sector, in areas like campus renovations, student loans, federal work-study programs, technology and climate research. Four billion is earmarked for job training. Another $500 million was allocated to the Department of Labor for green jobs education and training, though none of it was set aside specifically for community colleges (though it looks like the DOL may end up granting some to those who apply).