New England colleges team to aid green workforce

Four colleges in three New England states are working together to train students and make it easier for them to create programs for their region’s growing green building and resilient design industries.

The Ecovation Hub Education and Training Consortium brings together Anticoch University New England and Keene State College in New Hampshire, Greenfield Community College (GCC) in Massachusetts and the School for International Training in Vermont. It’s part of a larger effort to help the region’s economy recover from the closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in 2014 by turning the area into a green economy hub.

“With this consortium, we can help students map out where they want to go, and how to get there,” GCC Science Department Chairwoman Teresa Jones said in a statement. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for public higher education to leverage other public and private institutions to the benefit of our region, and theirs.”

Cary Guant, Keene State’s director of sustainability, said the consortium wants to take advantage of the experts currently working in the areas of environmentally responsible building and resilient design — developing buildings and communities that can adapt to natural disasters and other effects of climate change.

“We wanted to tap into that in different ways,” she said. “In the past, those different areas of expertise were extensive but they weren’t unified. It was very fragmented. No one was talking to each other.”

In the works

The four schools signed a memorandum of understanding last week to officially create the consortium, however, some of their work is already underway.

Because they serve different populations — Greenfield is a two-year college, most of Keene State’s students are enrolled in four-year undergraduate degree programs and the other two offer graduate degrees — the schools don’t compete with each other. Instead, they’re exploring ways to make it easier for students to move from one school to another, learning about the green industries.

For example, students who complete Greenfield’s training program in energy efficiency could enter an accelerated program at Keene State to get a bachelor’s degree in green architecture, Gaunt said.

The schools also are examining their curriculum to identify areas of overlap and opportunities to create new degree or certificate programs, and hope to offer “boot camp” training sessions for those already working in the high-performance building industry. Research will be another component, but the main focus is on workforce development, she said.

A rural focus

Gaunt said in researching other consortia, most are focused on urban areas and are created to promote research. This project is focused on workforce development, from high school through graduate school, she said.

“What we’re trying to do here is focus on rural areas and to focus first on workforce development and second on research,” she said. “We’re looking at soups to nuts — how do you really prepare a workforce?”

Laura Sibilia is the director of economic and workforce development at the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, a nonprofit that supports industrial and commercial growth in southeastern Vermont. She sees the education consortium as an “enthusiasm generator and network builder,” and called it a great step in leveraging the region’s assets.

“With workforce development, there’s two pieces, the employer and the trainer, and obviously our educational institutions are critical to that,” she said. “We need cohesive tangible pieces to come together to really help create the momentum — the gasoline to keep this fire going.”

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