School’s in session for green-job seekers

In late March, Gov. Bill Ritter signed off on a new law that requires 30 percent of Colorado’s electricity to come from renewable sources. The upgrade from the previous 20-percent goal gives the state one of the highest renewable energy standards in the country. It also means that Colorado, where the creation of green jobs is already hyped, has even more reason to nurture a workforce trained in renewable energy systems.

A 2008 report, commissioned by the Governor’s Energy Office, estimated Colorado is poised to add 600,000 green jobs by 2030, as the state increases its support of those businesses that support renewable energy and energy efficiency. Lawmakers expect the state’s higher renewable standard to generate thousands of new jobs over the next decade.

Continued government support and the boom in green enterprises are essential to those projections becoming reality. But a second component to the growth of green jobs will be to ensure that there is an employee pool prepared for work in sustainable industries. It’s not an opportunity that local colleges and universities have overlooked.

At the Larimer campus of Front Range Community College, a new Clean Energy Technology program is training students in operations and technical skills. Program director Glenn Wilson said an advisory board of local renewable-energy company leaders, who already acknowledge a lag in capable employees, helped develop program curriculum.

“It’s pretty new and unique,” Wilson said.

Students take a broad yet directed array of courses meant to prepare them for a range of responsibilities – tech development, manufacturing, facilities operations, maintenance – within renewable-energy industries.

“We think there’s going to be a lot of change and movement,” Wilson said, referring to the ongoing jockeying between solar, wind and other alt-energy businesses. “We’re teaching to the needs. I haven’t seen anything that offers this flexibility.”

Front Range’s program includes a one-year certificate track and a two-year associate’s degree. Interest couldn’t be higher: In Fall 2009, the program quickly met its initial 48-student cap, and Wilson expects to take in another 72 students this year.

Sustainable building courses

Aims Community College in Greeley is launching certificate programs in sustainable building and construction management, among other green-job training tracks. John Mangin, chair of the school’s Applied Environmental Technology department, said course loads incorporate traditional engineering and construction courses with classes that focus on sustainable materials and renewable energy technology.

According to Mangin, green building and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification “are pushing the industry and not just at the design level. So, it’s important for contractors to know the systems and that’s where we see the need.”

The college began its green-building certificate program last fall, with a modest inaugural class of about a dozen students. This year, Aims will start offering a program for multi-industry system technicians that will train students in applied skills for jobs, ranging from hybrid vehicle maintenance to solar panel installation to smart-grid operations.

“Students are really looking for this kind of stuff, and they see that it’s beneficial for them to get training in these programs,” Mangin said.

Both community colleges are finding a mix of students: teenagers fresh out of high school, adults looking for retraining and new job skills, and current employees from companies like Vestas Wind Systems who are getting schooled to climb the corporate ladder with the support of their employers.

‘The Green University’

At Colorado State University – “The Green University,” as its PR campaign goes – the school’s strengths in engineering and natural resources have been preparing students for green jobs since long before the term came into vogue. But the university is also trying to attract nontraditional students looking for new career paths, particularly military veterans.

In November, the school announced a formal relationship with Denver-based nonprofit Veterans Green Jobs to facilitate educational opportunities for veterans and their families in areas including forestry, green construction, renewable energy development and sustainable business.

Bill Doe, an associate dean in CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources and a board member with Veterans Green Jobs, says the skills that many veterans pick up in the Armed Forces make them well-suited to take on green jobs, where communications and technical competence figure heavily into the successes of individual businesses and entire industries.

For now, the agreement opens a door for veterans interested in green jobs and a four-year education, Doe said, while Veterans Green Jobs provides additional trainings and workshops elsewhere in the state. The nonprofit, which is involved with similar initiatives in Pennsylvania and Virginia, has already partnered with metro Denver community colleges to teach veterans home-weatherization skills, performing work on low-income homes in the San Luis Valley. It is also partnering with Berthoud-based EnergyLogic Inc. on a weatherization program in suburban Denver, which has created several dozen new jobs.

“It’s about the transition for military veterans back into society with the prospect of a sustainable livelihood,” Doe explained.

It’s also about relevancy for both the academic institutions and the diverse workforce seeking these opportunities. At a moment of high unemployment and low state funding for higher ed, colleges need to adapt to economic and political trends. Connecting interested students with green-job employers is a promising decision.

“One thing we always strive for is relevancy,” Aims’ Mangin said. “It helps us to be competitive for students, and with our push for funding. This isn’t something that’s going to fade away.”

Joshua Zaffos is a freelance journalist based in Northern Colorado who covers environmental issues for the Business Report. Contact him at news@ncbr.com.

In late March, Gov. Bill Ritter signed off on a new law that requires 30 percent of Colorado’s electricity to come from renewable sources. The upgrade from the previous 20-percent goal gives the state one of the highest renewable energy standards in the country. It also means that Colorado, where the creation of green jobs is already hyped, has even more reason to nurture a workforce trained in renewable energy systems.

A 2008 report, commissioned by the Governor’s Energy Office, estimated Colorado is poised to add 600,000 green jobs by 2030, as the state increases its support of those businesses that support renewable energy and energy efficiency. Lawmakers expect the state’s higher renewable standard to generate thousands of new jobs over the next decade.

Continued government support and the boom in green enterprises are essential to those projections becoming reality. But a second component to the growth of green jobs will be to ensure that there is an employee pool prepared for work in sustainable industries. It’s not an opportunity that local colleges and universities have overlooked.

At the Larimer campus of Front Range Community College, a new Clean Energy Technology program is training students in operations and technical skills. Program director Glenn Wilson said an advisory board of local renewable-energy company leaders, who already acknowledge a lag in capable employees, helped develop program curriculum.

“It’s pretty new and unique,” Wilson said.

Students take a broad yet directed array of courses meant to prepare them for a range of responsibilities – tech development, manufacturing,…