The SEED Center

Dr. Spilde Green Article

The following is an excerpt from an article entitled, “Community Colleges Meeting the Challenge” by Dr. Mary Spilde.

The article can be found here:
Sustainable Colleges and University: New Goals and New Challenges for Higher Education Leaders
James Martin and James E. Samels, eds.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

As the green movement began to emerge it appeared that there was a great deal of confusion about what a green job was and therefore, confusion about how community colleges should respond. It is now clear that many of the green jobs span several economic sectors such as renewable energy, construction, manufacturing, transportation and agriculture. It is predicted that there will be many middle skill jobs requiring more than a high school diploma, but less than a bachelor’s degree. While there will be new occupations such as solar and wind technologists, the majority of the jobs will evolve from existing jobs. Both will require new knowledge, skills and abilities. For community colleges, this means developing new programs that meet newly created industry standards and adapting existing programs and courses to integrate green skills. The key is to create a new talent pool of environmentally-conscious, highly skilled workers.

Exactly what training programs community colleges develop depends on what is happening in our local communities. We do not simply start programs without establishing the workforce need. It is helpful to develop a framework for green job training that helps identify the opportunities to make informed decisions about our curriculum.

Nascent: Wave technology, biofuels, geothermal
In these areas, either the technology is still undergoing development or there are very few jobs at this time. We need to keep the nascent areas on the horizon but these are not big employers in the short run and may not need large scale program development.

Emerging: Wind and solar
Companies already are investing in wind and solar, and colleges are developing programs to meet those needs. This is truly where community colleges come into their own: working with local economic development organizations to attract companies and then developing training programs to create a high performing workforce. Colleges that have developed programs in wind or solar technology such as have responded directly to companies creating jobs in their local communities.

Efficiency and energy management: Auditing and retrofitting the built environment
Consider how much built environment we have in this country and it’s not difficult to see that this is where the vast amount of jobs are now and will be in the future. Lane has had an energy management program since the late 80s — before it was hip to be green! The program trains auditors to assess energy use and make recommendations and implementation plans for improvement.

Greening of existing jobs: There are few currently available jobs that environmental sustainability will not impact. Whether it is jobs in construction such as plumbers, electricians, heating and cooling technicians, painters, and building supervisors or chefs, farmers, custodians, automotive technicians and interior designers – all will need to understand how to lessen their impact on the environment.

Much of this training will be accomplished through non-credit continuing education for the incumbent workforce and integrating sustainability curriculum into existing credit programs. There are many opportunities in this element of the framework.

The framework helped us focus on the areas that we felt would build on our existing strengths to develop new programs that would serve our region. We added renewable energy technology, water conservation and sustainability coordinator degrees. Our Culinary program just went through a re-accreditation by the American Culinary Federation and we were told that we are one of the top three sustainable culinary programs in the country. The college also hosts the Northwest Institute for Energy Education which provides continuing education for energy professionals.

Curriculum infusion
There is no doubt that in this economic environment, very little gets traction unless it is connected with the economy and jobs. It is no surprise that the focus on the environment is through green jobs and that the role of community colleges is seen through the lens of career and technical training. However, we would be remiss if we stopped there. We must educate people for jobs but we must also educate people for life, for citizenship and yes, for democracy. To do that, we must do more than assure high quality technical training. The data are clear — the more learning, the higher the earnings. We must be vigilant that we do not relegate our students to the lowest paying jobs that are most impacted by economic uncertainty. We need to educate our students not just for a job but to weather a turbulent economy and to be ready for continuing shifts. Too many of our students have been displaced from the workforce and are simply not prepared for the new economy. It is critical that we look beyond job training and integrate broader knowledge to empower students. Our two-year degree programs already include general education but if innovation is to be the hallmark of our economic recovery we must expose students to a curriculum that blends liberal and applied learning. Our students need the skills to cope with change and complexity if they are to forge a path through economic dislocation, or avoid it altogether.