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The movement to green the US economy is gaining momentum. At the federal level, as well as in places like Illinois, Maine and New York City, lawmakers have passed legislation aimed at reducing carbon emissions while creating green jobs in various industries such as transportation, construction, environmental management and agriculture. These have all shown growth in recent years and should continue to do so.
This green revolution will require an army of well-trained workers — yet federal investments in skills training have focused primarily on adults. To build a healthy pool of skilled labor, policy makers should apply lessons learned from a strong body of evidence on successful career and technical education programs for secondary school students to create pathways to careers in the green economy.
More than 12 million high school students are enrolled in the CTE; high-quality CTE programs have been shown to boost high school graduation, college enrollment, and earnings. With programs organized around specific career themes, they offer internships and other work-based learning experiences, and provide opportunities to earn industry-recognized degrees and college credits while staying on top of the game. high school. CTE programs also seem to work particularly well for students who have low levels of education, including young men and students with disabilities.
CTE programs have been successful across all fields of study, suggesting that similar models focused on green jobs and careers can have similar effects. In fact, promising green CTE programs are springing up across the country. In Malta, New York, Clean Technologies Early College High School, a P-TECH model school, offers learning experiences in clean energy, business and solar installation, opportunities to obtain certificates in photovoltaics and a pathway to associate degrees in electrical construction and maintenance. . The New York Harbor School on Governors Island in New York offers programs in areas related to marine health, including aquaculture and marine systems technology, and offers courses in professional diving and ship operations, as well as paid internships.
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In Kansas, the Green Tech Academy at Olathe West High School is a four-year program with paths in both renewable energy and sustainable agriculture. Ocean Springs High School in Mississippi trains students in aquaculture through a program that allows them to continue their studies at a local community college, and Frankford High School’s Bright Solar Futures program in Philadelphia offers training and certificates recognized by the industry in solar power installation and energy conservation, preparing students for entry-level solar jobs.
However, as innovative as these programs are, they tend to be one-time efforts. To prepare students for the future green economy, a more coordinated effort will be needed to align labor market needs with CTE programs nationwide.
The Aspen Institute’s recent K-12 Climate Action Plan recommends developing new CTE opportunities that prepare students for jobs in the clean energy economy and creating programs that support knowledge of the environmental sustainability across all career paths. This could be done in a coordinated fashion by raising funds through the federal Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, which provides states with more than $1 billion annually to support CTE education. For example, electricians and HVAC technicians now need to understand new technologies used for homes and buildings powered by renewable energy. Other core areas of ETC’s current programming are being transformed by climate change efforts, including buildings and architecture, transportation and logistics, and agriculture and natural resources.
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Perkins already requires school districts to conduct needs assessments of local labor markets. States could use this funding to help schools make explicit connections with green employers to build the skills students need and create opportunities for internships, apprenticeships, and workplace learning experiences.
Other sources of funding should be developed to support the green ETC, such as money to purchase training equipment like solar panels, wind turbine parts and greenhouses. Funding research aimed at understanding how schools and districts can best align their educational offerings with the rapidly changing labor market should also be a policy priority.
Developing a pipeline of talented students ready to enter the job market as the clean energy transition accelerates would ensure a strong and skilled pool of workers ready to take on the challenge of reducing carbon emissions at the scale and speed demanded by science. This would be a victory for students, employers and the environment.
Rachel Rosen is Senior Associate and Co-Director of MDRC Center for effective vocational and technical training.
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