Dispatches from VA Greenforce Summit: Job Figures Show Training Needs

I’m blogging live from the Virginia Greenforce Learning and Action Summit at Germanna Community College‘s Daniel Technology Center in Culpeper, VA, and boy, are my fingers tired.

This event, convened for community colleges, workforce boards, employers, and other organizations to explore new opportunities in Virginia’s emerging green economy, has been fast-paced and informative, and I’ll be picking out a few highlights throughout the day to (hopefully) shed some light on the new frontier of workforce training.

Offshore wind - part of our clean energy future

NWF Education Programs Vice President Kevin Coyle helped kick off the summit this morning by asking attendants to think back 25 years, to when his ‘hell in a box’ Kay-Pro was at the forefront of personal computing. “People said, ‘this internet thing is gonna be big,'” Coyle recalled. “That’s where we are with clean energy.”

The message that we’re on the ground floor of a broad economic transformation has set the tone for the day so far, but I still wanted to hear some facts and figures–specifics about how the green economy is doing, especially in Virginia. More importantly, I wanted a better understanding of where community colleges fit in.

I didn’t have to wait long. Akua Gyabaah, a senior associate at ICF International, was here as a representative of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Colaborative’s (MARC) Green Consortium, recipient of a $4 million grant (PDF) by the U.S. Department of Labor to define the “green economy” in the Virginia/Maryland/DC region, and she answered many of my questions handily.

According to MARC’s employer survey of 35,000 establishments on current green jobs, job openings, and education and training, roughly 8-9% of regional employers already offer green jobs—representing around 29,000 ‘green’ establishments in the region. About 3-5% of the total workforce in the area is ‘green,’ which means approximately 235,600 jobs (this included some 112,257 green jobs in Virginia alone).*

Not bad, right? Furthermore, 30% of green jobs surveyed in the region were in Construction, an area that has fallen on especially hard times in Virginia and nationwide (Virginia Employment Commission research economist Timothy Kestner devoted much of his presentation to examining the broad downtick in that sector). According to the MARC survey, “Hiring projections indicated that green activities in Construction, Professional, scientific, and technical services and Support and waste management services can expect to grow[.]”

Naturally, there’s still work to be done (that’s why we have summits about this stuff).

Despite the fact that roughly 75% of green employers surveyed across the region offer on-the-job training—some even offering in-house classroom training, trade apprenticeship programs, or online courses—there’s still a dearth of experienced green workers. Applicants with specific green credentials or other indicators of prior training have a much better chance of being hired than those who rely on their employers for know-how, but we have a ways to go before they make up a significant portion of the workforce. That’s where community colleges come in.

MARC’s full report will be available next month at www.MARCGreenWorks.com.

Stay tuned for more from the Greenforce Summit throughout the day, learn more about the program here, and follow on Twitter @Greenforce.

*-Note: numbers are approximate; please consult full report from MARC in March.