Enthusiasm and Challenges Highlight National Green Workforce Education Conference

2009 New Ideas in Renewable Energy Workforce Education Conference

Albany, NY – More than 500 participants from across the U.S. and Europe packed plenary and breakout sessions at the third New Ideas in Educating a Workforce in Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Conference, November 19-20 in New York’s capital city. National leaders in renewable education and training shared valuable, updated information and insight into all aspects of building and maintaining a quality, credentialed, safety-conscience green workforce.

Common themes across the conference’s 70 presentations generated discussion on issues critical to the state of today’s renewable energy industries and workforce, resulting in a clearer vision of cautions and challenges.

Some key questions addressed included:

  • With the enormous public investment in green jobs, how are programs and training maintained after the grants go away?
  • What’s the balance between job creation and good instruction?
  • How are quality assurances built into training programs?
  • How do you define the green job?

“The stakes are really high,” said Mary Spilde, president of Lane Community College in Oregon, who addressed the opening session for the two-day conference.  “We need to provide skills and competencies for green jobs and we need clear pathways to career path jobs.”

Spilde, who is chair of the American Association of Community Colleges, offered six points of guidance:  assess strengths and capacities, respond to local labor market, develop strategic partnerships, share the wealth, develop technology-rich pedagogies, and be guided by our values. Forty-six percent of undergraduates attend community colleges, according to Spilde.

“We are the first generation capable of determining the habitability of the planet for humans and other species,” said Debra Rowe, president of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and professor of sustainable energy technologies and behavioral sciences at Oakland Community College in Michigan, “The decisions now are crucial. Every job will have a green tinge to it, since energy waste, toxins, food chain disruption and ecosystem destruction will be costly and unacceptable, IF we pay attention!”  Rowe told an enthusiastic, packed audience.

Rowe went on to say that higher education is taking a leadership role to prepare students and provide the information and knowledge to achieve a sustainable society.  What does it look like?  She mapped out three models:  (1) Starting renewable energies and energy management programs, sustainable manufacturing, transportation, horticulture, culinary, HVAC, design, etc.; (2) Integrating sustainability principles into all technical and other disciplines; and (3) Integrating sustainability into general education core requirements for all degrees.

Steve Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, talked about energy efficiency as the “1st Fuel.” Energy efficiency investments are taking off, he said, and are likely to more than double.  “This will result in substantial job generation. But we need to align jobs and training.  We don’t want one to get out of step with the other,” said Nadel.

Global Training Leader for GE Energy Renewables, Dan Lance, provided evidence of the massive growth potential for wind and the need for technicians. But he warned not to “over-complicate” the training.  “Teach the students the basics in electrical and power generation . . . we’ll take it from there,” he said.

Representing the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the major sponsor of the conference, was Karen Villeneuve, director of NYSERDA’s Residential Efficiency and Affordability Program.  “Weaving a new technology or process into the fabric of the energy industry is not accomplished simply with words or simplistic slogans, nor even by offering installation incentives and hoping the limited financial resources you invest in will establish a foothold for the technology,” warned Villenueve.  “We must be sure to view what is now being referred to as the green collar workforce under our new paradigm.  As we create the infrastructure for new technologies we will also create opportunity for a skilled workforce.”

“This conference has given us an enormous wealth of guidance and focus on training a competent ‘green’ workforce,” said Jane Weissman, executive director of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. (IREC), the main organizer of the conference.  “We will continue to publish articles and interviews about what we learned, and the critical and timely discussions that this national gathering of experts facilitated.”

All of the conference’s presentations are posted on IREC’s web site.  IREC served as the primary organizer of this conference.

 

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