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Greening Career and Technical Education

The Need for Green Education

Globally, business is trending toward sustainability, signaling a shift in jobs and economies everywhere.

However, an article from business sustainability thought leader GreenBiz notes that students in the United States are not satisfied with sustainability curricula at many of the nation’s universities. Just 16 percent of students, the lowest number in five years, reported being "completely" satisfied with sustainability academic offerings.

This lack of satisfaction is also being felt at companies, as company leaders note a disparity between what students are being taught about sustainable development and how it’s being applied in the market.

A survey by McKinsey found that educational systems had not kept pace with the changing nature of work, resulting in many employers saying they could not find enough workers with the skills they need. Additionally, 60 percent said that new graduates were not adequately prepared for the world of work. There were gaps in technical skills such as STEM subject degrees, but also in soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and punctuality.

The Solution

"High-quality career and technical education (CTE) programs, culminating in industry-recognized post-secondary credentials, have great promise in engaging students, helping them succeed academically, boosting college completion rates, and brightening career prospects. By age 20, graduates of such programs have academic credentials, technical credentials, and work experience—and, usually, well-paying jobs." —Michael J. Petrilli, Brookings

High school and community college CTE programs serve over twelve million students annually and are ripe for an infusion of sustainability and environmental management knowledge and skills. According to Advance CTE—the largest national education association dedicated to the advancement of education that prepares youth and adults for careers—students enrolled in CTE are high performers, with higher than average graduation rates and impressive postsecondary enrollment rates. Additionally, the National Center for CTE states that taking one CTE class for every two academic classes minimizes the risk of students dropping out of high school.  As well, the U.S. Department of Education reports that the average high school graduation rate for students concentrating in CTE programs is 93 percent, compared to an average national freshman graduation rate of 80 percent. Students from lower-income families can also find a pathway to the middle class through CTE. 

According to O*NET, “sustainability specialist” is considered a new and emerging “Bright Outlook” occupation projected to have 100,000 or more job openings between 2016 and 2026. Sustainability specialists are responsible for addressing organizational sustainability issues, such as waste-stream management, green building practices, and green procurement plans, and made a median salary of $69,040 in 2016. Incorporating in-demand professional skills in sustainability and environmental management and in work-based learning activities such as guest speakers, industry panels, site visits, and internships into CTE programs is the right approach for sustainability careers and college readiness.

The National Wildlife Federation is working collaboratively with high schools, higher education institutions, employers, and other partners to prepare students for the growing green economy by revising and enhancing high school CTE programs with sustainability and environmental content, and by providing opportunities for students to gain hands-on, project-based experience.

Why the National Wildlife Federation?

As a major U.S. conservation organization dedicated to education and youth development, the National Wildlife Federation has long-standing programs supporting high school, community college, and college students in workforce preparation and careers supporting business sustainability and improved environmental and natural resource management. 

There is no better-positioned organization than the National Wildlife Federation, with our deep environmental education roots and comprehensive and proven education programming at each age level, to orchestrate this major repositioning of the workforce for the new economy. Through our educational, skill, and leadership development programs we work in more than 11,000 K-12 schools, several hundred community colleges and universities spread across every state, and in both rural counties and nearly every major metro area of the United States.

We approach our education and skill-building work in several ways, including the support of comprehensive green school programs, notably through our Greenforce® community college initiative designed to help campuses infuse sustainability into job and career preparation; our Eco-Schools USA program; our Campus Ecology program, working to reduce carbon and environmental footprints on major campuses; and our EcoLeaders program, where students develop team and project skills, leadership capabilities, and core sustainability skills for the 21st century.

If you have questions or would like to learn more about our efforts to green Career and Technical Education, please contact David Corsar, National Wildlife Federation EcoLeader Career Center Manager, at

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Where We Work

More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. The National Wildlife Federation is on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.

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