Training and jobs in the 21st Century: neither your father’s training (nor job)

You cannot plant an acorn in the morning and expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak. Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Back in March, NPR ran a story about the disconnect between the current inventory of jobs in the U.S. and the skills required to do those jobs.  I listened to it again, and it hit me as powerfully the second time as it did the first time.

Millions of job openings are in the queue–some due to baby boomer retirees, others a result of insufficiently-trained manufacturer workers. According to Anthony Carnevale, Director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, those job openings don’t really require advanced degrees.  “But employers do need workers with solid skills in math and other disciplines. And that means more emphasis on vocational training,” he believes.

If manufacturing is still a viable job sector in the U.S., and the demand for those jobs requires a new, skilled worker, what kind of training are we talking about?   Who’s doing the training? How do you know it’s the right kind of training?  How fast are people getting trained?

IREC’s been asking these questions and responding with answers since 2005 through its ISPQ credential that accredits training programs and certifies trainers.  What’s so important about a credential?

“Standardized credentialing lets everyone know what they’re getting,” said Dr. Sarah White, Senior Associate, Center on Wisconsin Strategies.this past Spring at the 4th national clean energy workforce education conference.

According to White, the current educational system in the U.S. is largely designed for 18-year olds.  But the current workforce is in seismic transition from dying industries, from unemployment and for working adults.  A standardized industry system that’s competency-based—is smart and sustainable for workers, employers, and the industry.

In Greener Skills: How Credentials Create Value in the Clean Energy Economy, White and colleagues outline key early steps toward a national credentialing system, describing the core array of certifications and skill standards for workers in clean energy sectors and providing a set of policy recommendations to help move this work in a more consistent direction.

“This kind of rational training system would turn out highly qualified, relevant workers, providing for them (and us all) shared prosperity and a greener future with quality work and quality jobs.”

IREC is a big fan of credentialed programs and practitioners.  It awards its ISPQ credential to clean energy training programs and trainers who meet the rigorous requirements for accreditation and certification.  Just last month, energy efficiency and weatherization training programs and trainers became eligible to apply for the ISPQ credential. To date, 114 programs and practitioners are ISPQ credentialed, six applications are pending, and 18 have submitted Letters of Intent.

The Solar Instructor Training Network (SITN), through nine Regional Training Providers (RTPs), is training the 21st Century clean energy workforce through a strong network of community colleges and other training stakeholders.

As a network, the regional providers collaborate to develop curriculum guidelines, identify career pathways, share labor market data, and resolve issues related to solar training and workforce development.  Using innovative approaches to training, including distance learning courses and mobile laboratory training modules, the RTPs sponsor instructor training in PV and/or solar heating and cooling technologies, and in some cases, assist in equipping the laboratories and facilities of local training providers.

With a credentialed infrastructure firmly in place, can a highly-qualified, well-trained clean energy workforce be far behind?


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