Basic Skills Building BlocksA study released over the summer found that there are some great opportunities in Washington state for green jobs in the renewable energy sector. But it also pointed to some problems ensuring adequate training for those jobs.

The study confirms what Professor W. Norton Grubb found: work force training needs to be better integrated with education. Training is about learning tasks or work related skills that allow immediate employment while education is grounded in more broadly applicable skills like reading, writing and organizational skills.

The education training dichotomy is one aspect of the fragmentation that plagues work force training and by extension training for green collar jobs. Grubb’s ideas, creating better connections between education and training, are still relevant today more than a decade after he wrote about them in his book Learning to Work.

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  • The study, Renewable Energy Industry Trends and Workforce Development in Washington State, was completed by the Washington State University Extension. It analyzed the renewable energy sector and also conducted in depth interviews with 27 state renewable energy employers and experts in the wind, solar, bio energy, hydro efficiency upgrades and small hydro fields. The wind sector is by far the fastest growing area of renewable energy in the state with other parts of the renewable energy industries—solar, bio-power, hydropower efficiency upgrades and small hydro—with slower growth.

    Across these industries employers found candidates for positions and trainees in the various fields lacking in core skills.

    Many employers reported serious academic skill gaps among new hires and job applicants, especially among younger and less-experienced workers and job applicants. Basic math, writing and communication skills were often described as inadequate for entry-level employment.

    Grubb argues in his book is that better connection between education and job skills training, like that found in a community college setting, would lead to workers with better core skills and career prospects for future employment and upward mobility. Grubb’s study of numerous workforce training programs found that simply training workers in specific and narrow skills, without a good basic education in things like reading, writing, math and teamwork might get them to get jobs but probably not keep them employed long-term.

    The implication of this argument is that, in the interest of great long run effects, more attention should focus on enhancing both basic education and jobs skills and less on simply getting individuals into employment.

    This is a tall order for a  higher education system in Washington State threatened with reductions in funding beyond reductions passed in last years state budget.

    But one existing program at Edmonds Community College is one example of tying jobs training with basic education. Their Energy Management Degree includes basic courses in math, English and management.

    More coherent, integrated oversight of training and education programs by state-level agencies like the Department of Commerce and the Higher Education Coordinating Board would help improve this integration and, according to Grubbs deal with the concerns of green employers that future green collar workers have the skills they need for more than just a short-lived stint in renewable or energy efficiency sectors.

    Right now there are at least two large groups working on workforce training in Washington State under mandates from legislation. The Clean Energy Leadership Council created by SB 5921 and the Evergreen Jobs Leadership Team created by HB 2227 have started meeting to talk over renewable energy opportunities and job training for all kinds of green jobs. Shouldn’t the Council and Leadership team be part of the same coordinated effort?

    In Grubbs’ words, better “vertical coordination, [to] oversee the development of improved information, and the like” could lead to more programs like the one at Edmonds Community College. And, based on the WSU study and Grubbs’ analysis, this kind of program would lead to green jobs that will last and provide a career path for displaced and new people coming into the workforce.

    Photo courtesy of Flickr user Holger Zscheyge under a Creative Commons license.