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As the national and global economies shift to respond to energy, resource and climate challenges worldwide, North Carolina is getting ready to lead.
According to a 2009 Pew report, clean-energy job growth outpaced overall job growth in North Carolina by nearly 9 percent between 1998 and 2007. (Clean-energy job growth also outpaced ordinary job growth on a national level.) Some community colleges in the area—representing the front lines in future workforce development—started to shape their training programs to fit the green economy a long time ago. In doing so, they set a laudable example for the rest of the country.
One of those schools, Raleigh’s Wake Technical Community College, is a rising star. Wake Tech received a 2008 Innovation of the Year Award from the League for Innovation in the Community College in recognition of its Northern Wake facility, the first all-LEED campus in the country. In 2009, the college received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for a two-year project to educate the public about alternative fuels and clean transportation.
Last week, Richard Cregar, a sustainable transportation technologies instructor at Wake Tech, was honored by the White House as a Champion of Change—one of those select few working to “help win the future by out-educating, out-innovating and out-building our competitors in the 21st century” in their communities. (See a video of Cregar discussing biofuels, below.)
Cregar, a believer in hands-on training and the role of community colleges in workforce development, has a crowded resume. He serves as chair of the Triangle Clean Cities Coalition and is co-director of the statewide Code Green Super Curriculum Improvement Project (CIP), launched last year by the North Carolina Community College System. (Among the Super CIP training focuses is the transportation sector). He has also helped marshal Wake Tech’s involvement in the Greenforce Initiative, a partnership between the National Wildlife Federation and Jobs for the Future to strengthen the capacity of community colleges to develop, enhance or refine green career pathway programs in North Carolina and five other regions. Cregar is on the ground floor of a movement to help the American workforce adapt to a changing economy.
For North Carolina and the nation, the clean-energy economy prominently includes the next generation of vehicles and fuels. Cregar, an expert on renewable fuels, advanced drive systems and workforce development for “green” transportation, epitomizes the drive to build for the better, working with students and local employers to make sure North Carolina’s workforce—even the portion composed of so-called unskilled workers—is well positioned to compete in this sector in the 21st century.
A commitment to workforce training at community colleges will help accelerate our ability to tackle climate change and changing energy and transportation choices while creating economic opportunities and pathways out of poverty. If we follow the example of Cregar, that can become not just an ideal but a point of state—and national—pride.
Mwase is a program director at Jobs for the Future. Keniry is senior director of campus and community leadership at the National Wildlife Federation.
Richard Cregar, a sustainable transportation technologies instructor at Wake Technical Community College, discusses the college's biofuels program.
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