Training for energy jobs must match needs

The enthusiasm for “green jobs” will lead to disappointment unless community colleges align alternative energy programs with workforce needs in their area, writes Ellie Ashford on Community College Times.

Research the local market and talk to alternative energy employers before creating a new program, advises Todd Cohen of the American Association of Community College’s SEED (Sustainability, Education and Economic Development) Center.

 While a growing number of community colleges are investing in solar, wind and smart grid technology programs, it might make more sense for some to add alternative energy components to existing programs, such as incorporating alternative fuels into automotive technology programs, Cohen said.

In Michigan, Lansing Community College revised its associate degree in energy management in 2010 when it realized graduates weren’t finding jobs. There’s little solar or wind energy in Michigan, but there are jobs in energy auditing and weatherization. The college now offers an associate degree in alternative energy engineering technologies that prepares graduates to do energy audits.

Hagerstown Community College in Maryland offers an associate degree in alternative energy technology plus a two-year certification in solar and wind energy installation and service.  The college added alternative energy courses to existing programs, such as HVAC, plumbing and electricity. “That allows us to produce people with fundamental skills that are employable in many other industries,” said Anthony Valente, an instructor in industrial and energy technology.

A five-story science and technology building on the HCC campus opened in January with solar and wind systems that are used for teaching and also offset some of the college’s energy costs. The building uses geothermal wells to heat classrooms and has a rainwater retention system for irrigation and non-potable water.
In addition, HCC is building an “energy house,” a residential structure with alternative energy systems that will be used as a laboratory, where students can practice installing solar and geothermal systems, change air flow and conduct energy audits.
The local demand for alternate energy workers is only “moderate,” says Valente, but technicians with an associate degree and experience can earn $25 to $35 an hour.