According to a report issued in early 2009 by the American Solar Energy Society, the renewable energy industry generated about 500,000 jobs and $43 billion revenue in the U.S. in 2007. The much broader energy-efficiency industry generated 8.6 million jobs and $1 trillion in revenue. The study projected that the two sectors could employ 16 million to 37 million people by 2030, depending on government policy.
The Future is Green Collar
President Obama wants to create 5 million new green collar jobs by 2019. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – the economic stimulus package – provides $32.6 billion in funding to the U.S. Department of Energy with more than half of these funds directed to the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program office.
Community Colleges are Uniquely Positioned
With help from $500 million in stimulus money, community colleges and vocational schools have stepped into the breach to provide training for an array of new jobs the environmental industry is expected to create.
In an April, 2009, MSNBC report, “Gut Check: Green Jobs – hope or hype?” reporter Miguel Llanos cited Norma Kent, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Community Colleges, as saying that while there are no firm numbers, more schools across the country are offering training and certificate and associate degree programs for a smorgasbord of “green collar” disciplines:
- Wind turbine, geothermal, hydroelectric and solarvoltaic installation, maintenance and repair
- Green construction and energy efficiency in buildings
- Biomass, and alternative and biofuel production
- Battery and hydrogen fuel cell technologies
- Sustainable energy and agriculture
In a publication titled Going Green: The Vital Role of Community Colleges in Building a Sustainable Future and a Green Workforce, Mindy Feldbaum, director of workforce development programs at the Academy for Educational Development, a global non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., states “Community colleges – with their connections to local and regional labor markets and the flexibility to respond to emerging industries and their changing skill needs – are the perfect gateway to good green jobs, preparing workers with the skills and competencies needed for green industries.”
Green Technology Training is Widely Available
Here is but a sampling of community college programs:
The Detroit area’s Macomb Community College is expanding its alternative energy and sustainability job training programs, thanks in part to $800,000 in federal grants to train people for jobs in the wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, battery technology,and hydrogen fuel cell industries. Macomb is creating a Renewable Energy Certificate and continues to develop its Center for Alternative Fuels.
Scott Ralls, president of the North Carolina’s community college system, announced in February, 2009, a Code Green Initiative that aims to expand green technology training. “This is not something that we just started in the last two months because there’s a stimulus package,” Ralls is quoted in the Greensboro North Carolina News & Record. “We really see this as a new economic opportunity for North Carolina. This will be a long-term focus.” Central Carolina Community College already attracts students from across the country to study biofuels production and sustainable agriculture.
In October, 2009, Michigan’s Kalamazoo Valley Community College will launch the first Wind Turbine Technician Academy in the US, with a 26-week program to train workers on the giant turbines found on wind farms. The Center, which partners with nearby Western Michigan University’s engineering department, has an active on-campus 50 kilowatt turbine, and 50 and 350 kilowatt decommissioned turbines, and provides installation, operation and maintenance technician training for small, commercial, and utility grade turbines.
Green Job Opportunities Beckon
According to an MSNBC report, some green companies, such as Pacific Solar Radiant of Santa Cruz, Calif., say they need those workers even now, in a down economy, not just in the future. “Our phone is ringing off the hook,” said marketing director Beth Shady. “So what’s our problem? Not enough qualified employees to install our systems.”
According to a March, 2009, Los Angeles Times story, crack wind technicians–who need good knees, a cool head and a stomach for heights – can make six figures a year. Best of all: wind farms are hiring and probably will be for years to come.