Virginia Greenforce Summit Convenes with Focus on Jobs Training

Leaders say community colleges will be a pivotal part of green jobs foundation

03-02-2011 // Max Greenberg
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In February, representatives from Jobs for the Future (JFF) and National Wildlife Federation joined 100 economic development leaders, nine community colleges, and the chancellor of Virginia's community college System at the Virginia Greenforce Summit in Culpeper, VA.

Among the attendees were entrepreneurs, educators, and CEOs, but they all journeyed to Germanna Community College's Daniel Technology Center to explore new opportunities in Virginia’s emerging green economy, specifically in the Northern, Shenandoah, and Chesapeake regions, giving special attention to the ways two-year institutions can help prepare the workforce for and grow that economy.

Like many in attendance, Germanna Community College President David Sam invoked his beginnings to set the tone for the day: a childhood spent in the woods catching crawfish and salamanders, building treehouses, and making stew from wild onions with his father. Sam says he grew up with an "ethic of caring about the world in which [he] lived."

The outgrowth of that ethic, a prerogative to provide students with the means to improve their economic lot as they conserve and innovate, was in evidence all around us. Said Sam, "too often the world of business is seen as inimical to nature." The clear message of this summit was that there doesn't have to be a conflict: people can make a living without "soiling the place (they) sleep."

This will require some changes. “Over the next 40 years, the world is going to move toward a much lower carbon footprint and in that movement we’re going to look at, ‘how do we reach 20 percent of the use of fossil fuels that we have or maybe less,’" according to Kevin Coyle, NWF's vice president of Education Programs. "We have to create a stronger foundation for green jobs in the United States.”

Community colleges will be a pivotal part of that foundation, Coyle said, both for so-called 'low skilled' green-collar job training and high-level professional careers like architecture, engineering, and design.

Community colleges across the country are at the forefront of green growth and innovation whether it’s addressing their own sustainability, developing new curricula to cultivate the green workforce or making their campus operations a classroom by integrating sustainability into education to prepare graduates for jobs in the renewable energy and low-carbon economy,” said Victor Branch, marketing manager for Bank of America, whose charitable foundation's grant helped launch the Greenforce Initiative last fall.

“Community colleges can be the driver in the creation of local workforce partnerships—bringing together green-sector employers, workforce development organizations, unions, and other community stakeholders,” added Maria Flynn, vice president of economic opportunity at Jobs for the Future. “The Greenforce Initiative is designed to ensure workers gain the skills needed to access green careers they want, and that green economy employers gain access to the skilled labor they need.”

Here in Virginia, the Greenforce Initiative has joined with nine community college partners. A few highlights of the green workforce and education programs offered on their campuses:

  • Blue Ridge Community College
    -Green technology courses offered include environmental technician certification, energy retrofit and weatherization, and energy auditor training.
  • Dabney S. Lancaster Community College
    -Offers a Wind Turbine Service Technology program, which is designed to "prepare students to become Wind Turbine Service Technicians to support the system installation, operation and maintenance needs of the wind energy industry" based on national industry standards.
  • Eastern Shore Community College
    -Numerous online course offerings include Water and Wastewater Treatment, Green Designer certification, and solar and wind energy training.
  • Germanna Community College
    - In addition to Building Performance Institute training for local home-building industry professionals, offers a host of online courses like "Principles of Green Buildings" and "Biofuel Production Operations."
  • Lord Fairfax Community College
    -Offers broad Green Construction certification training as well as courses on photovoltaic technology and air sealer installation.
  • Northern Virginia Community College
    -Practical training courses include Energy Auditor Training, Sustainable Development, and Green Building fundamentals.
  • Piedmont Virginia Community College
    -Coursework includes a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) workshop for contractors and energy auditing and weatherization training.
  • Rappahannock Community College
    -Has created a “Green” committee comprised of leading local companies and purchased wind and solar energy training equipment.
  • Shenandoah Valley Energy Partnership
    -Received a $5 million grant to develop instructional programs to help workers acquire new skills in sustainable construction, weatherization, manufacturing, and other areas and has been key in sponsoring and coordinating green workforce efforts across several of the campuses listed above.

Obviously the 'greening' of the American workforce by community colleges is already well underway, but the agenda at Wednesday's summit was shaped by leaders from these and other stakeholders to build on that work.

Some in attendance noted that faculty will have to think differently about their roles in the future, perhaps shifting to a more entrepreneurial mindset as they adjust courses to skilled labor demands while helping to generate the demand for it by linking with the greening of their campuses. As large, central facilities, community colleges' efforts to advance green transit, improve energy efficiency, shift to clean energy, and support habitat restoration and local agriculture, are job creating and educational opportunities in their own right, a reality that will shape workforce training pathways in the future.

These partners designed the Virginia summit to explore green economic development trends in the state, determine the size and type of necessary course offerings, talk to employers in sectors such as transportation, clean energy, sustainable agriculture and energy efficiency about their workforce needs, advance the 'greening' of their campuses and tie it to green workforce education and training, and clarify the career pathways for lower-skilled or adults workers. The planning committee for the summit was made up of leaders from each of the Greenforce partner campuses as well as other stakeholders from the Virginia Employment Commission, Virginia Conservation Network, and Virginia Community College System.

NWF partnered with Jobs for the Future (JFF) to launch (PDF) the Greenforce Initiative™ in September of 2010, thanks in part to the Bank of America Charitable Foundation grant as well as a $250,000 grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Greenforce was founded in an effort to strengthen the capacity of community colleges to develop, enhance or refine green career pathway programs, and it was previously highlighted at the Clinton Global Initiative University meeting in Miami, FL, last Spring. So far, the initiative has partnered with community colleges in North Carolina, Virginia, Chicago, Texas, Seattle, and Michigan. You can learn more about the program here and follow the initiative on Twitter @Greenforce.

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