by Jane Pulaski

Dr. Sarah White at the 2011 CEWEC

The first time I heard about Dr. Sarah White from Wisconsin’s Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) was upon the release of the seminal work, Greener Skills: How Credentials Create Value in the Clean Energy Economy in March 2009.  I was so wowed.  White, a labor historian and Fulbright scholar, is a Senior Associate at COWS, a national “think and do” tank based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, promoting high-road economic development — a competitive market economy of shared prosperity, environmental sustainability, and capable democratic government.

The Greener Skills report reads more like a magazine article than your typical garden variety white paper.  It convincingly makes the case for a national policy of portable, transparent, industry-specific credentials — and state-supported pathways up to them.  Even more amazing: I read, and re-read, and re-read the report, not just because I didn’t understand it the first two times, but because it was such a compelling read.  I had the chance to interview Sarah; she talked about the value of credentials, how they’re very much a part of the calculus in building a competent, competitive green energy workforce.

To be fair, credentialing and the topic of greening the workforce was, not all that long ago, a somewhat unsexy topic, of interest to a decidedly small universe of workforce geeks.  Fast forward not even two years, and the world is a very different place.  Funny how a global economic downturn can affect a (formerly) sleepy topic like the clean energy workforce.

Just last week, Dr. White was a keynoter at the 4th national clean energy workforce education conference in Saratoga Springs, NY.  Sarah was her usual electric, ebullient self, espousing the same mantra she’s been championing for years: credentialing really does matter.

“But,” as she says, “there are good credentials, and there are other credentials. Standardized credentialing lets everyone know what they’re getting.”  And she’s a huge fan of third-party certification.

So how do we get there?

According to White, our current educational system is largely designed for 18-year olds.  But we train the workforce we have, the one that’s in seismic transition from dying industries, from unemployment and for working adults.  The insightful and essential approach–a standardized industry system that’s competency-based—is smart and sustainable for workers, employers, and the industry.

White told the rapt conference audience of COWS’ upcoming report in the green careers series—this one on greener on-ramps.  As soon as it’s on the street, we’ll let you know.  Here’s the link to all of COWS’ reports, several of which are on the green energy economy.

So does credentialing really matter?

“Absolutely yes,” she said.  “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.”

Here’s Dr. White’s presentation at the 2011 Clean Energy Workforce Education Conference in Satatoga Springs, NY (March 8-10):  Green(er) Credentials: Improving Skill Delivery in the Clean Energy Economy.