When more green jobs start to open up in northwest Arkansas, educators want to ensure they have the workforce to fill them.
In anticipation of a growing sector, Bentonville's Northwest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) and Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock are adding new green courses that seeks to train about 600 people during the next three years to be certified energy auditors. Students will also recieve training on energy efficient HVAC techniques. The colleges received a total of $2.4 million in grants from the Department of Energy to establish the Green Collar Workforce Center on their campuses.
The short-course certification classes will focus on energy auditing and rating, weatherization, and energy-efficient heating and cooling to teach professionals about the “science of the building,” says Rick Mayes, director of building sciences at NWACC.
Arkansas plans to weatherize 6,500 homes by 2012 with Recovery Act funds, and the green jobs sector will expand as a result. But Rick is looking towards the future. “We want to make this sustainable,” he says. Rick says the program will first be geared towards professionals looking to transition into the industry but then evolve into something more.
“Eventually, it will offer a plethora of things,” he says. “We want to show how students—even starting in high school—can have a career pathway [in this line of work].”
To help develop a strong curriculum, the colleges are reaching out to organizations recognized as authorities on best practices and standards in the industry. Joining forces with organizations like Residential Energy Services Network, or RESNET, a federally recognized standards making body for energy efficiency rating systems, will bring credibility to the content and certification, Rick says.
A satellite training center for the community college is located in Fayetteville, a few miles from Bentonville. The new Fayetteville center will hold its first class in August. Rick says Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan was influential in getting the grants for the training center projects.
“This was his number one priority when he came into office,” says John Coleman, the city’s sustainability director. “He has a strong connection to construction in the area and sees the issues they are dealing with now.”
Like most areas in the country, construction jobs are down, with many unemployed workers scrambling for work. College and city officials hope people will flock to the programs to increase their chances of landing a job.
“It‘s important for us to get out in front and have a workforce capable of understanding what is coming up,” John says. “We want to provide a workforce to interested companies.”
John says the city is also seeking grants from the Department of Labor to establish scholarships for the training centers.
Describing the new additions as “building training centers of excellence,” Governor Mike Beebe announced the green collar workforce centers in February.
“These are the types of jobs that are changing in the 21st-century economy,” said Gov. Beebe, “and we will soon have hundreds of Arkansans better prepared to pursue new opportunities in expanding career fields that embrace energy-efficiency innovations.”
Editor's note: This story was modified on July 8, 2010 to include updated information on the Fayetteville training center.