Creating a Green Workforce in Community Colleges

Interview with Dr. Jerry Weber, President of the College of Lake County, Grayslake, IL

Dr. Jerry Weber speaking at an event on campus. Photo from the College of Lake County
Jerry Weber is President of College of Lake County, in Illinois, where he has been supporting the clean economy workforce through the Illinois Green Economy Network (IGEN) which he co-founded in 2008 by convening the community colleges across the state, recognizing achievements, linking students and faculty with employers, and adapting curricula across dozens of majors.

The IGEN team helped to create a plan to prepare 20 million ecoliterate graduates by 2025 called the “Greenprint: A Plan to Prepare Community College Students for Careers in the Clean Economy: Equipping 20 Million Students with Sustainability Knowledge and Career Skills by 2025”.

Dr. Weber (JW) speaks with Julian Keniry, of the National Wildlife Federation, about the precedents and possibilities moving forward.


Q: A couple of years ago, you mentioned a wish to share curriculum innovations for sustainability in an open source format. How is IGEN accomplishing this?

Dr. Weber presenting at IGEN which received a 19 million dollar grant to engage Illinois community colleges with business partners to produce stackable curricula for sustainability. Photo from the College of Lake County
JW: One important decision of the Obama Administration was to support community colleges in developing greater capacity, and we were fortunate in Illinois to write a successful proposal in the first round of the Department of Labor awards in 2011.

For this state-wide effort, 230 faculty and staff across 17 colleges worked in teams to create more than 30 certificates and degrees covering major areas of sustainability. Anyone can now access these materials from the developed courses and degrees in an open source format. ( So, we have now groups of colleges with expertise in the major themes and career programs around sustainability education and training.

We want to demonstrate how community colleges can collaborate to become the workforce that’s at the center as the green economy grows over the next decade, while leading the way in making sustainability local.


Q: As a community college president, how do you leverage your voice on the sustainability education and skills agenda in ways that the wider community and policy makers can hear?

JW: Presidents often consider themselves the Chief Executive Officer of their organization. However, it is probably more important that we see ourselves as the chief evangelical officer for the college. Just as we differentiate ourselves for the students and the community, we need to also show that we are part of leading the way in workforce and important education trends. Any president is going to be interested in the workforce aspects of sustainability, but if they can also understand that the campus culture can be shifted forward. The community colleges that have fully embraces sustainability stand out, they have created an environment that the students are proud of and that’s a message worth communicating.


Dr. Weber discussing a horticulture program with a colleague. Photo from the College of Lake County
Q: What do you envision going forward for community colleges and a clean economy?

JW: We are now at a tipping point where the creation of green jobs will accelerate. People don’t realize the clean energy sector is adding jobs at a faster rate than the old carbon based energy sectors. Already, two-thirds of the new energy that comes on line around the world is renewable.

It is important to realize that clean energy is a huge economic and environmental opportunity. With the recent budget deal in Congress that includes a five-year extension on wind and solar tax credits, clean energy will be moving even faster. To have a path to a positive future we will need to increase energy efficiency, expand renewables, and replace carbon-based energy sources with clean ones. This will require a readily available, skilled workforce, and we can educate and train our students for this growing workforce. In America, much of the new energy workforce will be educated and trained at community colleges.

For our students, these opportunities will be more than jobs. The new sustainable economy will provide rewarding, life-long careers with a livable wage.


Read Dr. Weber’s full interview here.