Albany, NY – “We’ve moved past the point when ‘green jobs’ was just a marketing term, a sound bite,” said Jane Weissman, executive director of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) in opening the 5th National Clean Energy Workforce Education Conference here. “The way forward is to embed green knowledge and green skills into every job and every education program – to train a quality workforce that meets industry needs.”
These were threads that ran throughout the conference, where hundreds of the nation’s innovators in clean energy workforce development and education came together to share insights and best practices. The conference’s major sponsor was the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
IREC is working nationally with partners in education, industry, labor and government to address real market needs in renewable energy and energy efficiency – to create training and education programs for the long-term – programs that prepare workers with a high-quality skills set with marketable value. A major initiative is underway to credential training programs and instructors so clean energy training is relevant and standardized to the highest quality bar.
Speakers, including IREC’s Weissman, nationally acclaimed energy writer Alexis Madrigal, and clean energy education champions who are driving national training and education for a clean economy, put the timeliness of the conference and its critical content in the context of Super Storm Sandy and the reality of climate change, as well as the economic realities of our time.
“Cities are vulnerable,” said Madrigal. “Our systems are built for one climate and can crack under the constraints of a new, different climate.” Madrigal offered a historical perspective to the conference’s opening session and weaved how the past is drawing a blueprint for a green future.
Myths and truths about clean energy jobs were another strong theme.
“Green jobs are not a myth, not a failed initiative, they simply got mixed up with a failed economy,” said Sarah White, Ph.D. The green sectors actually grew faster than other sectors during the recession, she added. “We are a tiny sector of the economy. We will not be the answer to a nine-million job deficit. But we will be a part of it.” White, a well-published leader on a more coherent green national workforce system, is senior associate at the Center on Wisconsin Strategy.
In fact, job growth in the solar industry has been steady since 2010, according to a report released and presented at the conference. The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2012 reports that U.S. solar companies continue their trend of hiring faster than the overall economy and they remain optimistic about future growth. As of September 2012, there are 119,016 solar workers in the U.S., up 13.2 percent over the past year, nearly six times higher than the national average employment growth rate of 2.3 percent during the same period. “These findings illustrate that the solar industry is a strong and growing cluster that is responsible for thousands of jobs across every state in the nation,” the report states. View full report at http://thesolarfoundation.org/
How do we keep the trends in clean energy technology, job growth and education/training heading in the right direction? And how do we do it right, so it’s sustainable? According to these thought leaders, who are creating and advancing educational programs at community colleges, technical high schools, and trades and industry training centers, we must:
- Educate consumers about clean energy and how related issues affect them.
- Integrate renewable energy and energy efficiency into K-12 curriculum.
- Integrate clean energy into liberal arts, business and other college programs.
- Start educational initiatives from industry job needs, rather than from populations who need employment.
- Train an incumbent workforce.
- Work for local, state and federal policy change.
- Credential clean energy educators and trainers to produce a high-quality workforce.
“Bring together local government, labor, business and community-based organizations,” said Debra Rowe, Ph.D. “It’s our job to make every program a green program – every job a green job.” Rowe is president of the U.S. partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, and faculty at Oakland Community College.
Over three days, more than 60 presenters shared the latest instructional strategies and practices in clean energy education. They looked at new and thought-provoking next generation technologies and workforce needs. They shared insight into what’s working and what’s not, gaps to close, and directions to take.
The primary 2012 conference sponsor was The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). IREC was the conference organizer.