by Catherine Caudill
For the Daily Mail
|CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- Community college has gone green.
Or some of their classes have. As the "green movement" has spread across the nation, a new economic sector has opened in the marketplace to sell green products, energy and services.
The West Virginia Community and Technical College System is hopping onto the hybrid bandwagon, arranging courses that teach green trades, such as energy efficiency auditing and insulating homes.
GREEN-UP is a grant-funded program that creates classes for green energy education and training in the community college system. The target is to educate upward of 1,600 people.
"(This grant) is a competitive state energy sector partnership grant," said Dave Calvert, Project Coordinator for GREEN-UP. "It is targeted for green industries and occupations overall. Ours fall under three categories: energy efficiency building, renewable power and energy efficiency assessment."
WorkForce West Virginia received the $6 million grant through the U.S. Department of Labor. In turn, WorkForce West Virginia is dividing the grant into subgrants to distribute to community and technical colleges, state workforce investment boards, and local building and trade organizations.
Calvert believes there is marketplace demand to improve efficiency and reduce energy costs, and this demand can foster new jobs.
"I've seen trends in occupations over the years, and I can remember many years with growth in specialties," he said. "Look at the rise of computers in the workplace; a lot of those (jobs) came with the computer revolution."
Joe Trentini from Morgantown learns how to weld on a virtual reality machine, which simulates the touch, sound and sight sensations of actual welding. Nine trading organizations throughout the state are receiving the Lincoln Electric VRTEX 360 to teach apprentice welders the trade without wasting steel and creating fumes. The machine was funded by the GREEN-UP grant, which was attained by WorkForce West Virginia from the Department of Labor to distribute to community and technical colleges, local building and trade organizations, and local workforce investment boards for green training and job opportunities.
Unlike computers, which generated careers within a brand new sector, many of the new green jobs will exist within long-established markets like energy and construction.
"They're really specializations within an existing occupation," said Calvert. "The types of subgrants we've awarded under this (include) wind energy, water and waste water treatments, home construction and renovation, (and) green entrepreneurship."
Although most of these programs will not be getting underway until this summer and fall, Kanawha Valley Community & Technical College has started offering courses geared toward improving home energy.
"That's becoming a big thing in the real estate market," said Calvert. "Energy auditors look at any way your home uses and consumes energy. They look at airflow in the house, heat loss and how it's insulated."
"Jobs are coming, and more jobs will be coming," said Joe Sinclair, program director for the KVCTC GREEN-UP Council. "I've seen a high percentage of the existing house stock needs major retrofitting."
Sinclair is a LEED-certified architect (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) who teaches the weatherization skill set courses at KVCTC. Students who take these daylong, one-week courses can earn Building Performance Institute certificates, college credit, and a weatherization skill set certificate if they complete all three courses. Through the grant, tuition is free for the first year the classes are offered.
Those who enroll can then seek jobs as energy auditors or retrofitters.
Energy auditors inspect homes for energy efficiency. "They're taught to do a home interview with the home owner, tell us anything we can't visually see - if there are any warm rooms or cold rooms - and then we do an internal visual inspection of the basement, crawl spaces, the attic. We look at insulation levels, types of insulations, the appliances and lighting fixtures to see if there are any potential upgrades from there."
The screen above the virtual welder shows what the operator sees through the welding mask as the metal melts.
||Though it is in its infancy, this program has already found success with potential employers. "I got 12 of my students job interviews and just got one confirmation that one was given an offer for a management position with a company that's contracted through the Appalachian Power Co.," said Sinclair.
"When we started this program, the main concern with the GREEN-UP training was: are there jobs?" said Laura McCullough, who is coordinating the program at KVCTCS. "It was neat to take a step of faith, (hoping) the jobs will be there. And the jobs are coming."
Also benefiting from the grant are welding apprentices throughout the state. Nine different organizations of pipe fitters, ironworkers, and local trade organizations have received a device that can teach students to weld on a virtual reality machine. The VRTEX 360 by Lincoln Electric simulates welding without wasting costly metal coupons, generating fumes or risking injury.
The simulator cost $46,500, but traditional welding lessons are not cheap either. "The savings on this machine alone will make a difference; it won't take long before it pays for itself," said Sheryl Johnson, director of Construction Works of West Virginia.
"It doesn't replace hands-on welding, but it will speed up the teaching," said Jason Keys, a technical trainer for Lincoln Electric. "When you weld, you have to tack up your plate; here you can weld continuously. It takes 30 minutes to set up a pipe-welding arc. You can weld 20 to 30 pipes a day instead of 10."
Pipe coupons cost about $25 each so the machine can save an institution a great deal in supply costs in a very short time. The traditional welding process is also somewhat wasteful, as the pipe coupons could not be reused.
"That's one aspect of the grant that's called sustainability," said Calvert. "The grant puts money up to equip these institutions. It (also) leaves in place the people who have gone through the training. I think some of these projects we have funded will very likely go on for a seven- or 10-year period beyond the grant. The market forces will become a lot stronger and push them in that direction."
Contact writer Catherine Caudill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4886.