As America struggles to get back to work, community colleges are preparing to bring their students where the jobs are -- on wind farms, in the green building sector, and elsewhere in the new green economy. More than 300 colleges have signed on to the SEED Center, an initiative launched this week by the American Association of Community Colleges and ecoAmerica, which helps community colleges develop green job training programs and scale up existing ones.
It’s hard to say exactly how many green jobs are out there today and how many there will be in the future. Studies suggest, however, that investments in clean energy could generate millions of jobs throughout the economy. And the strong interest in SEED, which stands for Sustainable Education and Economic Development, suggests that community colleges, long the educational backbone of America’s workforce, see a need for green jobs training.
“For decades, community colleges have trained the skilled workers needed by new industries,” says Meighen Speiser of ecoAmerica. “They see themselves as the engine that can fuel the new economy and keep those skilled worker jobs here in America.”
The SEED Center will offer free curriculum resources, industry and employment information, case studies, and additional support for program implementation, faculty development, and funding. The center gives colleges just starting out a chance to connect with other institutions that have already developed successful programs.
Columbia Gorge Community College in Oregon is one such institution. Noting the growth of the local wind industry, the college launched a short-term training course for wind energy technicians in 2006 and boasted a 92 percent placement rate, with graduates earning $20 to $24 an hour. That course is now a long-term program with a path toward a two-year degree.
In Michigan, some 350 Oakland Community College students are enrolled in the school’s renewable energies program and related courses, where they work on refurbishing buildings, performing energy audits, and reducing waste and pollution for small businesses and hospitals.
Employment is still down across the country, but there are instances where the need for skilled green workers is not being met. “We have case studies in places like Charlotte,” says Speiser, “where people want solar installations and the contractors don’t have the skilled workers to help them do that. Americans want to participate in the green economy, but making access to those jobs a reality was the missing link.”