NC Greenforce Conference – Community Colleges Focus on Preparing North Carolina’s Green Workforce

More than 100 participants from 37 different community colleges in North Carolina and several local and national organizations came together November 14-15 at Davidson County Community College for the North Carolina Greenforce Conference.

This event was organized by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Jobs for the Future (JFF), in partnership with the North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents Code Green Initiative and the Super Curriculum Improvement Project (CIP) of the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS). Goals of the conference included:

  • Support the work of community colleges and other key stakeholders to prepare North Carolina’s workforce to meet employer needs, foster entrepreneurship, and stimulate the green economy
  • Advance statewide efforts to integrate sustainable technologies into NC community college campuses and curricula by facilitating networking, peer-to-peer learning, and collaboration among faculty, staff, and administrators charged with making this transition
  • Spread models for using cutting-edge campus sustainability initiatives as experiential learning opportunities for students, while conserving resources and cutting costs
  • Help colleges make green economic opportunities more accessible through the exchange of best practices for developing programs that address common barriers to success

During the two day conference, participants heard from speakers including NC Deputy Secretary of Commerce Dale Carroll, NCCCS Associate Vice President for Innovation and Biotechnology Matt Meyer, Code Green Co-Leader and President of Wilson Community College Dr. Rusty Stephens, Super CIP Director Butch Grove, Regional Executive Director of NWF’s Mid-Atlantic Office Anthony Caligiuri, and Executive Director of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) Ivan Urlaub.  Other contributing and participating organizations included the American Association of Community Colleges, the NC State Industrial Extension Service, and the North Carolina Department of Administration.

Throughout the event, attendees were provided with several opportunities to participate in interactive breakout session discussions around a variety of topics related to green workforce training, career pathways, and campus sustainability.  Among these sessions were in-depth discussions to share best practices, challenges, and possible next steps on topics such as: Fostering Entrepreneurship, Climate Change Education, Student Support, Employer Engagement, the Super CIP, Engaging Lower-Skilled Adults in Green Programs, Engaging the Community, Financing Opportunities and Needs, Climate Action Planning, Local and Sustainable Purchasing and Procurement, Marketing Green Training Programs, North Carolina Energy Efficiency Initiatives, Policies Impacting the Green Economy, Sustainability Across the Curriculum, The Campus as a Sustainable Learning Laboratory, and Using Labor Market Information to Strengthen Green Program Planning and Development.

Following the last breakout session on Tuesday morning, participants were asked to break into regional groups (Mountains, Piedmont, and Coastal Plains) to discuss and recommend next steps for establishing regional networks to continue exchanging best practices and foster further collaboration with other nearby community colleges, to advance their work and increase their capacity for preparing the green workforce and supporting a sustainable economy in North Carolina.  Our closing keynote for the conference was Leith Sharp, who is the former Director of Harvard University’s Office for Sustainability as well as the former Executive Director for the Illinois Green Economy Network, and who now serves as the Chair of the Sustainable Futures Academy.  Leith shared her model for driving change and lessons learned from her previous roles with conference participants, providing them with inspiration and practical knowledge for success.

The immediate result of this conference is not only a more connected network of change makers across North Carolina working to build the green economy and create more sustainable campuses in their communities, but also an extensive list of possible next steps to guide the work of the Greenforce and Code Green Initiatives moving forward.  The list of recommendations includes (from short to long term):

  • Establish regional subcommittees to organize more frequent gatherings in the future, both through virtual means and in person.
  • Create tools to foster communication and collaboration among community college stakeholders, specifically working to connect people in similar roles and around similar interests.
  • Provide tools and training to help faculty integrate sustainability across the curriculum.
  • Engage employers in designing training programs, supporting students through internships and jobs, and driving demand for sustainable products and services.
  • Work with sustainable businesses in North Carolina and throughout the Southeast to negotiate group discounts and state contracts, and encourage more green product and service providers to register with the community college E-procurement system.
  • Increase conservation awareness and work to change behavior of students, faculty, staff and visitors on campus, including through human resources and other trainings.
  • Help combat lower-skilled students’ fear of failure and the unknown, and foster college-wide efforts to support students during their time on campus.
  • Engage Presidents, Upper Level Administrators, Boards of Trustees, Foundations, etc. as well as Business, Community and Congregation leaders around sustainability.
  • Increase support and recognition of this effort from the system office and in the community, including establishing a page on the NCCCS website.
  • Create a North Carolina green jobs board, helping to connect employers to students and students to employers.  Promote green training programs to students and employers.
  • Work together to get grants and other funding sources for collaborative work.
  • Strive to establish sustainability coordinator positions supporting all community colleges in North Carolina.

It was truly an inspiration learning about all the amazing work happening on community college campuses across my home state of North Carolina!  Thank you to everyone who helped to make this event possible: NWF and JFF staff, the Code Green and Super CIP leadership teams, the Steering Committee, our speakers and workshop leaders, everyone who participated, and the Bank of America Charitable Foundation for providing financial support for the Greenforce Initiative.  We are excited to continue our work together to move forward with next steps!