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Green Jobs and Adult Education: What’s the Connection?

Posted on 04/20/2009

solar panels
Photo by: Heidi go seek.

It’s hard to pick up a newspaper or listen to the news without hearing about the "green economy" and new "green jobs."  The federal government is proposing a $787 billion stimulus package to provide funding and support for creation of new green jobs, and this is generating a lot of excitement among educators, politicians and other stakeholders.   But what exactly is a "green job," and what is the connection between the new "green economy" and Adult Education?

Recently, the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development issued a Research Brief titled "Preparing the Workforce for a "Green Jobs" Economy" (February 2009).  This report seeks to identify the types of jobs and skills that will be in demand in the new green economy, and proposes strategies for building a competitive, flexible workforce that can respond to emerging employer needs.  Adult educators will have opportunities to participate in this important national initiative by providing basic skills and job training.

What is a "green job"?

We all have some ideas about "green jobs" such as installing solar panels, developing green energy sources, recycling.   But how do we really define these jobs?   According to the research brief, "green jobs" can be defined broadly as "… jobs that involve protecting wildlife or ecosystems, reducing pollution or waste, or reducing energy usage and lowering carbon emissions."  They are often traditional jobs, but require a new "green layer" of skills and knowledge.   For example, a welder might learn new techniques to manufacture wind turbines, or a construction worker might need new skills to build eco-friendly housing.  Most of these positions will be in the renewable and efficient energy sector, and will vary by state and region.

What is the connection between these new jobs and Adult Education?

Although green jobs may have a traditional foundation, employers stress the need for basic skills and traditional competencies, as well as degrees and other recognized credentials specific to a particular job.   According to the research brief, many of the new jobs will require an apprenticeship, professional certificate or other industry-specific training.

Adult education agencies can help students prepare for this new job market in many ways.   One recommendation is the incorporation of broad sets of "green knowledge" within the current curricula.  The research brief provides these examples of green concepts:

  • Environmental sustainability: How our ecology works, including a basic understanding of the interconnectedness of humans and the effects of energy consumption, waste disposal and the effects of man-made chemicals on natural systems.
  • Green technologies, standards and processes: Awareness of policies, national standards, equipment, and work practices that mitigate the environmental impacts of human activity. Discussions of solar panels, tax incentives, weatherization and green manufacturing standards
  • Life cycle analysis: Discussions of the environmental and economic effects of a product at every state of its existence from extraction to disposal. Employers say this is useful to show the benefits of using green technologies to consumers.

What strategies should we pursue to help develop a flexible, skilled workforce?

The brief proposes a number of strategies that agencies should consider, including:

  • Use federal and state public policy as a roadmap and identify ‘green policy experts’ who can provide leadership and expertise
  • Develop a creative venue for interaction among employers and labor unions
  • Encourage job growth by developing collaboratives among all stakeholders, including education providers, industry representatives, labor, green-energy advocates and others
  • Create and articulate career pathways

For the full report, and other references and resources, please see "Preparing the Workforce for a "Green Jobs" Economy" (February 2009).

You might also be interested in:

The National Institute for Literacy's Special Topics Discussion List recently addressed "Green Jobs and Adult Basic Skills" from April 10-14, 2009.  To subscribe and view the archived discussion, please go to NIFL Special Topics 1161: Green Jobs and Adult Basic Skills.

Governor Schwarzenegger Launches the California Green Corps

Green Jobs Guidebook