The clean energy economy — it can help solve a multitude of crises here in the United States. Green jobs and a push towards using more clean energy can help solve the unemployment crisis by creating meaningful long-term jobs for Americans. A green economy can also help alleviate the globe's environmental crisis. An added benefit to a green economy is that it boosts our national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil. However, a new report suggests that there are several roadblocks standing in the way of a true clean energy economy here in the U.S.

One of the biggest boons for green jobs creation is funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and the Green Jobs Act of 2007.  This funding is targeted at underserved populations — low-income households, unemployed individuals, at-risk youth, previously incarcerated individuals and the like. This is a good thing, in my opinion, because these communities have often been ignored and there is no time like the present to provide a meaningful pathway out of poverty for millions of Americans.

But according to the report, Building Effective Green Energy Programs in Community Colleges (PDF), this is where the roadblock begins. Unfortunately, most of the well-paying green jobs in the renewable energy and energy efficiency arenas require higher-level skills than is typically provided. Even the most well-crafted green jobs training program offered by a community college or other organization will have a difficult time training anyone in these high-level skills, skills that are typically the result of years of education and on-the-job experience.

In order to receive ARRA funding, community colleges need to create a green energy program that meets the needs of these underserved communities. However, this presents another obstacle for community colleges — creating a program that meets ARRA funding requirements while preparing individuals for a long-term career and not just a short-term job.

"Community colleges are grappling with how training programs for green jobs can create upward mobility for low-skilled individuals. Some are attempting to create green energy career pathways but are having difficulty identifying the target occupations, skill needs, and training when so little is known about the green energy demand for entry-level workers. Others are struggling with how to provide real-life learning experiences for students, such as internships, to provide them with job experience. Still others are finding it difficult to retain disadvantaged students who must overcome financial and social barriers to stay in school." Source: Workforce Strategy Center

So this roadblock just got larger. Green jobs can be part of the answer to our nation's economic recession, but the solution must include these typically underserved communities. The report highlights green energy programs in place at community colleges across the nation.

For example, South Seattle Community College has an energy efficiency career ladder. It starts with job readiness skills. A student is placed in an entry-level position to gain valuable experience. From there the student progresses to basic weatherization and safety training. Students are then guided towards advanced weatherization technician training. At this point, the student can apply for an apprenticeship or pursue an energy auditor degree program. By starting with the basics, and working their way up, students gain valuable life and job skills.

It is programs like the one in place at South Seattle Community College — programs that provide students with the skills and training they need along a well-defined educational path — that will be the most beneficial. Programs like this one are helping move our nation towards a clean energy economy and ensuring good green jobs for everyone.

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Facing a green jobs roadblock
Green jobs can help the nation ease out of the economic crisis, but there are several roadblocks to long-term success.