By Kevin Coyle, Vice President of Education and Training, National Wildlife Federation and Maria Flynn, Vice President of Building Economic Opportunity, Jobs for the Future
(This article appears in the November, 2010 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)
As the national unemployment rate hovers above 9 percent, the United States must address climate change and rebuild the economy.
Community colleges can be a driver in creating local clean energy sector “workforce partnerships,” bringing together employers, workforce development organizations, unions, and other community stakeholders. Such partnerships are key to ensuring that workers gain skills that lead to the clean energy careers they want and employers need. In addition, the investments community colleges make in “greening” their campuses provide opportunities for students to get hands-on training.
With support from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the National Wildlife Federation and Jobs for the Future have come together to form The Greenforce Initiative. This two-year program will strengthen workforce development and sustainability practices at community colleges, supporting pathways to employment for lower skilled adults.
The initiative was highlighted as a feature commitment at the April 2010 Clinton Global Initiative University meeting in Miami.
“While community colleges have emerged as the leading provider of training for green jobs, for many of them it is unchartered territory,” said Kerry Sullivan, President, Bank of America Charitable Foundation. “In working with both the National Wildlife Federation and Jobs for the Future, we saw an opportunity to introduce these organizations and have them collaborate to help rebuild the capacity and competitiveness of America’s workforce. By connecting graduates of community colleges’ environmental programs to the pipeline of available jobs, we are enhancing the economic and social health of the communities we serve,” Sullivan said.
The goals are to strengthen the capacity of colleges to develop, expand, or refine green pathway programs that lead to postsecondary certificates or degrees and employment in family-sustaining green careers and are designed for lower-skilled adults and other nontraditional students who cannot currently access such programs.
The Greenforce Initiative is creating “Learning and Action Networks” in six regions across the country, including metro Chicago, Michigan, North Carolina, northern Virginia, Seattle, and south Texas:
Greenforce is partnering with the Illinois Green Economy Network (IGEN), focusing on the Chicagoland region. IGEN includes all 48 community colleges in Illinois and will eventually provide funding for sustainability coordinators at each campus that will focus on all aspects of sustainability—from campus operations to integrating sustainability into the curriculum. Greenforce will bring a special focus to this network on developing career pathways for lower-skilled adults and integrating campus sustainability efforts into the curriculum.
Greenforce is collaborating with the Michigan Community College Association (MCCA), coordinating with their Alternative Energy Consortium and the Breaking Through network. Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the country and their governor in an effort to address this has created a high level green jobs Initiative through the Department of Labor’s Energy and Economic Growth office. Greenforce is working with a network of schools that are interested in green jobs training programs and campus sustainability efforts.
Greenforce is partnering with the Code Green Initiative of the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS), an effort to advance sustainability on NCCCS campuses and in surrounding communities. This initiative includes redesigning system-wide applied technologies curricula in the areas of Energy, Environment, Building Construction, Transportation and Engineering Technologies to better meet the needs of students working to gain knowledge, skills and experience they need to enter or advance in evolving or emerging green careers in these sectors.
In Texas, the Greenforce Initiative is focusing on the Houston, San Antonio, and South Texas region. The Initiative is looking to support green jobs training programs in this region that prioritize lower-skilled younger and older adults and the non-English speaking workforce, and help build strong employer partnerships for local economic development and entrepreneurial development.
In Virginia, Greenforce is focusing on the Northern region that includes community colleges in the D.C. metropolitan area and the Shenandoah Valley; there will also be a few participating schools from the Chesapeake region. Three community colleges in this region are part of the Shenandoah Valley Energy Partnership, a partnership funded in part by the U.S. Department of Labor to develop a program to train workers for jobs in the region’s emerging “green” technology manufacturing and renewable energy industries.
The Greenforce Initiative is growing in the Seattle region. We are partnering with the Skill UP Washington local workforce funder collaborative and the City of Seattle Economic Development Office to engage community colleges in efforts to strengthen green career pathways for lower-skilled adults in this region.