A Show of Greenforce for Virginia’s Economy

Three weeks ago, President Obama issued a call to, well, rockets in his State of the Union address, invoking the pre- and early-NASA space race as a model of national research and development we’d do well to duplicate now.

The sweeping tone, harkening back to a period of especially muscular American ingenuity, struck a chord with many. In the same speech, the president mentioned a need to “focus on the hardest problems in clean energy” and, memorably, the renewed drive to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world[.]”

Solar panel installation (flickr | OregonDOT)

But as NWF’s Patrick Fitzgerald blogged after the speech, integrating American education into green jobs training—making it a key component of future ‘innovation’ and ‘building’—is absolutely pivotal. We need to out-educate before we out-innovate, and it will take more than a speech to do it.

Tomorrow, a couple of hours southwest of the White House, community colleges, workforce boards, employers, and other organizations will convene to talk about how that will happen—and, crucially, how we will train the on-the-ground workers of the green economy.

At the Virginia Greenforce Summit, to be held at a Germanna Community College campus in Culpepper, VA, community colleges will explore new opportunities in Virginia’s emerging green economy, specifically in the Northern, Shenandoah, and Chesapeake regions. They will give special attention to discussing the ways two-year institutions can help prepare the workforce for those opportunities.

Why community colleges? Take it away, National Council for Workforce Education and Academy for Educational Development (PDF):

“Similarly, as new career pathways are developed specific to renewable energy, the majority of job trajectories in green industries will be built into traditional career pathways. Even so, community colleges are strategically positioned, with regional partnerships, to create the framework for new and expanded green career pathways, to work with employers to redefine skills and competencies needed by the green workforce, and to support professional development in these evolving occupational fields.”

That this community college pow-wow is happening in Virginia is especially fitting. According to a 2009 report (PDF) from Pew Charitable Trusts, it is one of 12 states with large and growing clean energy economies; the state’s count of clean energy jobs in 2007 exceeded the national average (PDF):

“Pew’s analysis found that between 1998 and 2007, jobs in Virginia’s clean energy economy grew at a rate of 6 percent […] Virginia still had nearly 17,000 clean energy economy jobs as of 2007, higher than the national average. Nationally, jobs in the clean energy economy grew at a rate of 9.1 percent while total jobs grew by only 3.7 percent, between 1998 and 2007.”

NWF partnered with Jobs for the Future (JFF) to launch the Greenforce Initiative™ last fall, thanks in part to a $1 million grant from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation and a $250,000 grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, in an effort to strengthen the capacity of community colleges to develop, enhance or refine green career pathway programs. You can learn more about the program here, follow the initiative on Twitter @Greenforce, and stay tuned to Wildlife Promise for more on the VA summit in the days to come.