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Business Officer Magazine
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First Responders

Community and technical colleges are training workers for a sustainable economy, in collaboration with industry partners and others.

By Karla Hignite

Well before passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, community and technical colleges were busy providing critical training for displaced workers and prepping students for an array of new green-sector jobs. Many of these programs are being designed in collaboration with industry partners or in conjunction with other education institutions and nonprofit organizations, says Norma Kent, vice president for communications, American Association of Community Colleges, Washington, D.C. “In many cases, colleges are able to take existing programs and expand, evolve, or combine them to incorporate key components of technology or science with a new green focus,” says Kent.

Among the range of examples:

  • Lane Community College, Eugene, Oregon, has partnered with American Water Works Association to offer an associate's degree to train and certify water conservation technicians.
  • Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kansas, recently launched a sustainable agriculture entrepreneurship program to equip students to develop and launch their own business ventures. The program, a partnership between Kansas State University, Manhattan, and JCCC's hospitality management, horticulture, and entrepreneurship programs, was developed in response to growing consumer demand for locally grown food and rising concerns about food quality and safety.
  • In North Carolina, the Global Institute for Sustainability Technologies at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College is training electricians to wire solar panels, and teaching carpenters and heating and air conditioning technicians about new green technologies within their industries. The college is also home to a clean energy incubator that is setting the stage for an upsurge of renewable energy companies in the state. Green building and solar hot water and solar photovoltaic systems are among key areas of potential growth identified for the region.
  • Through funding from the National Science Foundation, a Michigan consortium that includes Macomb Community College, Warren; Wayne State University, Detroit; Henry Ford Community College, Dearborn; and Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC), Kalamazoo, is developing a plan for an advanced automotive technology education center to help redirect the region toward the auto economy of the future. The center will focus on the emerging fields of hybrid electric vehicles, alternative fuels, and fuel cell technology. In October, KVCC is also set to launch a 26-week Wind Turbine Technician Academy. The program will run twice a year and admit 15 students in each class. The college is also contracting to be the U.S. workforce development headquarters for Boulder, Colorado-based Entegrity Wind Systems Inc.
  • Cloud County Community College, Concordia, Kansas, is also responding to strong demand for wind technicians. CCCC has partnered with an area technical college to offer an associate of applied science degree in wind energy technology and a certificate program for trained electricians. The programs are in response to Kansas's capacity for wind energy production, which ranks in the top five states nationally for wind energy production potential. The state already has an immediate need for technicians in the industry to support six existing wind projects. Another 24 projects have been proposed to reach the state's goal to develop 1,000 megawatts of wind-powered energy generation by 2015.
  • As is often the case, the growth of one sector can boost another. The wind technician training program at North Iowa Area Community College, Mason City, has spawned interest from the railroad industry in a training program for rail workers. A push to build a terminal 10 miles from the college campus as a hub for collecting and distributing wind turbine parts makes good sense, since the town of Manly is already a storage point for Midwest-produced biodiesel and ethanol.

For a broader discussion of the role higher education is paying in training the workforce for green jobs, see “Winding Up for a Sustainable Economy” in the November print issue of Business Officer.

KARLA HIGNITE, Kaiserslautern, Germany, is a contributing editor for Business Officer.