From Donuts to Doing: Forging Strong Ties With Industry

Rumor has it that “green” jobs have faded into the sunset.  After all, enrollment for some renewable energy training is down and new topics are nudging “green” off the hit parade list.  But wait, not so fast.  Don’t believe the unfounded rumor mill.

The Solar Foundation just released their Job Census and look, as of November 2013, the solar industry has grown to almost 142,700 solar workers, which is nearly 20 percent greater than the 2012 solar jobs figures.  Another 22,000 solar jobs are projected to be added this year.  And, from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects, their “Energy Infrastructure Update” tells us that renewable energy sources accounted for 37 percent of all new domestic electrical generating capacity installed in 2013.

So, jobs are out there and the clean energy industry is growing.  What we need now is to put an end to the green-job-hype era and move into the age of green reason. IREC now declares February the turning point as we firmly set course for a balanced and responsive approach to matching quality training to the job market. The good news is that we’re on our way.

We saw this at the January 29th meeting of the SEED Center (Sustainability Education & Economic Development), a project of the American Association of Community Colleges. Three speakers zeroed in on the same theme – you can’t set up training that leads to jobs without the industry as an active partner.

Dr. Ginger Clark from Hillsborough Community College made it a point to discuss industry involvement in her course curriculum, as did Brian Lovell who talked about developing a talent pipeline for high-performance buildings. Brian said that it was not sufficient to invite the industry in for a morning meeting, give them donuts, and expect training to meet their needs. Then my own comments added to the message, with a talk  about tangible ties with industry, “market value,” and moving from donuts to doing when partnering with business.

IREC uses three core elements to steer assurances that the skills taught are in demand by employers:  demonstrated linkage with industry (not just holding a donut breakfast); the use of a current and relevant, industry-driven job task analysis; and curriculum that teaches to occupational competencies. This market value combo is a foundational principle in IREC’s standards and credentialing assessment programs.

One of IREC’s tools is our guidance document on developing a job task analysis that is created, validated and accepted by the industry. It goes through the formal steps in the process that leads to a clearly defined job description, followed by a listing for that job of tasks and subtasks and their criticality and frequency.

We’re not about to espouse industry linkage without holding ourselves to the same rigor.  Our industry partners are many, and we keep to an essential requirement that our committees and working groups have balanced and active industry representation.  Direct evidence of this is the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) recently announced industry pledge to quality solar workforce training, working with IREC.  SEIA is encouraging its members to sign a pledge to individually and collectively formalize the solar industry’s commitment to build a skilled, knowledgeable workforce trained to safe and effective performance of the tasks solar energy jobs require.

As a training provider, how do you work with industry on a regular basis?  How do you team-up with employers?  Let us know and we’ll share your tips and lessons learned.

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