A Job Of A Different Color

Hudson Valley Community College leads the way in preparing students for environmentally friendly “green-collar” work



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In these financially troubled times, both minimum wagers and MBAs share the same fear: losing their jobs. Whether you’re blue collar or white collar, a laborer or a Lehman Brothers V.P., you could be looking for work soon, if you’re not already.

Perhaps the answer isn’t blue or white, but green. So-called “green collar” jobs in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency are predicted to grow by up to 5 million nationwide over the next decade. Locally, it is estimated that industries throughout the Capital Region and Hudson Valley will need between 500 and 600 such workers in the next five to 10 years. What’s more, these jobs — which include tasks such as installing solar panels, retrofitting old factories, and building wind turbines — can’t be outsourced to someone in a cubicle in Bangalore.

The challenge, though, is acquiring the skill sets needed for these new technologies. The administrators at Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) in Troy saw this coming; they have already developed courses and programs to prepare workers for the jobs of tomorrow.

Are You TEC-SMART?

The acronym is easy to remember; the name behind it isn’t. HVCC calls its newly formed green-collar department the Training and Education Center for Semiconductor Manufacturing and Alternative and Renewable Technologies. You can call it TEC-SMART. “Yeah, we went through a number of names,” laughs Joe Sarubbi, the executive director of the center. “But we have two missions here. We want to be an institute for renewable energy, but we also have this growing semiconductor push in the Capital Region, the whole Tech Valley thing. Plus the word ‘smart’ works for the education side. It kind of grew on us.”

Sarubbi, 52, has been at HVCC for 30 years. He was a professor of electrical construction and maintenance and a former department chair before taking on this new challenge. He explains that he and other leaders in the school’s various building and maintenance departments “read the tea leaves,” and in 2004 started talking with administrators about the emerging green-collar job market. “We knew that this would be big, and we wanted to be ready to handle it,” he says. “We saw renewable energy evolving, and we wanted to become a bigger player.”

They secured a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to set up a teaching program, which began in 2005. Then they started teaching themselves. Sarubbi and other faculty members received training in photovoltaic (or PV) energy — that’s solar power to you and me.

With support from NYSERDA and other state and private grants, they established a couple of other acronyms. The Workforce Development Institute (WDI) develops all types of technology-based programs, while the Center for Energy Efficiency and Building Sciences (CEEBS) is charged with instituting programs specifically in the field of energy-efficiency training. The CEEBS initiative is being rolled out in other tech training sites across New York State, including 10 community colleges (one of which is Westchester Community College).

CEEBS is currently offering one certification program in PV installation. It’s a yearlong course that requires no electrical or engineering background, Sarubbi says: “It can be for anyone looking for a career change or just starting a career.” And both types are currently enrolled, he says. The salary for a photovoltaic installer isn’t too shabby either, with annual earnings between $25,000 and $55,000.
There are also courses in “green building.” Both licensed contractors and home tinkerers can learn how to diagnose and repair homes to make them more energy-efficient. Each course prepares students for Building Performance Institute (BPI) certification. BPI sets the national technical standards for contractors. The college is also rolling out or developing courses in geothermal heating and ventilation design, and in alternative fuels.

 

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