Higher ed prepares for green-collar workforce

Green jobs are the jobs of the future – not just because they pay well and can’t be outsourced – and not just because they’ll help strengthen our economy and lift up our middle class – but because they’ll help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and save this planet for our children.
— President Obama

President Obama assigned $500 million to green job training and $20 billion to create a greener economy. In the U.S., where currently more than 13 million people are unemployed, this is good news. Green jobs have been termed “a pathway out of poverty” for unemployed and underemployed people.

President Carriuolo was an early adopter of green initiatives and set sustainability as a goal early on in her presidency.

“I chose sustainability as a goal because I recognized its importance for our campus community and for the world,” Carriuolo said. “We’re not only saving the environment by going green, we’re saving greenbacks, which is important in our current economy.”

Solar panels (arrays of photvoltaic cells) make
use of renewable energy from the sun.
On Nov. 17 and 18, the Office of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions hosted a webcast conference titled “Techniques for Developing Green Jobs Programs,” where Susan Jennings of UMass (Amherst) and Victoria Matthew of UMass (Dartmouth) presented research and a road map for the development of “green” programs and curricula at higher ed institutions.

At present, two-year community colleges and workforce training centers are the prime institutions developing green job programs. Their students are training to become wind turbine mechanics, solar panel installers, fuel-cell engineers and energy efficiency experts. There’s a lot of money in training. And training institutions will be the first to access stimulus funds.

Largely an unexplored terrain for four-year colleges and universities,

The wind turbine converts the kinetic energy of wind
into mechanical energy.
sustainability programs and curricula hold great opportunities –
and responsibilities – for higher ed, said Jennings and Matthew.

“Not only does the green-collar workforce need to know how to erect a wind turbine,” said Matthew, “they need to be educated about the broad context of sustainability.”

And green building and renewable energy aren’t the only job opportunities out there. The top 20 green jobs are in specialized fields, such as environmental engineering, environmental law, computer systems analysis, business management, urban/regional planning and science teaching.

The sustainability industry is also an exciting landscape for pioneers. More and more business school graduates are becoming entrepreneurs, starting their own green enterprises or assisting other businesses in going green. Emerging businesses include green furniture (made out of recycled timbers), green flooring (made out of organically grown moso bamboo), and green cosmetics.

“There are many points of entry into the sustainability industry,” said Matthew. But higher ed must be prepared to meet the student demand for skills and training.

UMass launched its green programs at two different take-off points: market research and community-based partnerships.

Green furniture made out of recycled timbers.

At the Amherst campus, Jennings, who is director of the Office of Campus and Community Sustainability, focused on market research. She put together a team of faculty members who have a passion for environmental issues. Using the “Google trends” search engine, her team examined local and national trends. They interviewed experts in higher ed and in the private sector who were running successful or start-up green programs. And they looked at employment websites, such as monster.com, and specialized green boards for the qualifications and skills required for green jobs. Finally, they examined existing course offerings at UMass to determine which courses would fit into a sustainability program.

At the sister campus in Dartmouth, Matthew’s focus was on community-based partnerships. As director of Program Development in the Continuing and Professional Education Division, Matthew connected UMass student interns with an agency called the Sustainability Center where they engaged in green building under the leadership of a local contractor.

“It’s important to build partnerships and programs off campus and look at how your college can tie in the needs of the community with college offerings,” Matthew said. “To put together a green program, colleges and universities are going to need both campus and community members working together.”

Based on Jennings and Matthew’s findings, a number of online degree and certificate programs in sustainability are now being offered at UMass, with specific focus on entrepreneurial training. Online courses may also be taken by adult learners looking to enter the green job market.

Following the webcast, Del Guidice felt that “convincing arguments had been presented for higher ed’s role in the development of green programs and curricula.” RIC has already embarked on this path through its Outreach Program. In partnership with the Aperion Institute for Sustainable Living, the Outreach Program now offers training and a certificate in Green Business Management.

One business that will be facing increased demand is farming. Being raised on a farm in Hilton, New York, President Carriuolo said her family grew organic food and recycled water, paper and plastic products. In going green, the country is essentially going back to being custodians of the earth. Fifty million farmers, Matthew said, will be needed.

“Whatever one’s personal assessment of the efficacy of the “green” revolution,” said Del Guidice, “sustainability is being integrated into the social, political, economic, and educational sectors of our society. Webcasts like this provide an informative road map for higher ed institutions that want to engage in change that has long and far-reaching effects.”

For more information about green initiatives at RIC, go to www.ric.edu/green.

Download Green Business Management Certificate Training pdf