As I opened this week's 2012 Clean Energy Workforce Education Conference, I looked out at hundreds of faces, some long-time friends and associates, and many I’ve not seen before. The brain power in the room immediately struck me.
I explained the simple black slide that surrounded me on stage. It simply said: 5.5. We’ve held this conference 5 1/2 times, I explained. Their expressions questioned the half.
We met as a small group of 40 eight years ago, in February 2004. Some of the same people were in the room today – Adele Ferranti, Vicki Colello, Kirk Laflin, Richard Lawrence, Deb Rowe. From that launching pad, we moved to Hudson Valley Community College two years later, where we sat down with a larger group and started a dedicated discussion. We shared lessons learned for training a workforce with the right skill sets for renewable energy and energy efficiency jobs.
Jeff Wolfe, then CEO of GroSolar, posed the question, “What are the jobs?” Then he answered. “They’re electrical, carpentry, project management, engineering — the conventional jobs but with added skills." Added skills, not necessarily separate jobs — the key concept that got a bit lost along the way.
When we met in March of 2008, the clean energy markets held the promise of being an economic growth engine. Green jobs were starting to emerge as a win-win for the environment and the economy.
By 2009, the green job race was off and running. But, green jobs became a marketing term, a short-term sound bite rather than a long-term, sustainable progression. We were at the height of hype when Deb Rowe focused us. “Every job will have a green tinge, if we pay attention,” she said. Sixteen months later, at our last conference, Deb Rowe came back as we were sweeping up the green confetti and talked about “creating explosion, instead of implosion.”
Today, I pose this question. Are we losing our footing or gaining traction? I suggest that we are gaining ground. We’re focusing on and incorporating ways of building a strong and sustainable workforce. I see this through three indicators.
It’s been a bit of a bumpy road recently. There are a number of major trends and issues that are bombarding the move to the clean energy/green economy. Not particularly fun, but we’re good at ducking; moving beyond the headlines; keeping our focus on our goals.
And, while the daily news continues to give us heartbreaking images of the human and property price of climate disruption, the fact is that these realities jolt us and our efforts back into the national dialogue.
Lead image: Solar engineer via Shutterstock
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