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A Job Of A Different Color

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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.

 

 

Hands-on learning: HVCC’s photovoltaic lab has both roof-mounted and post-mounted solar panels, so students gain experience in installing and maintaining both systems

It’s Easy Being Green

TEC-SMART is currently just a name, but in 2010 it will also be a place. HVCC is constructing a $13.5 million facility in the Saratoga Technology and Energy Park in the town of Malta. It will house all the training programs and also have a clean room for training in the semiconductor industry, Sarubbi says.

And it will be a showcase for energy-efficient technology. “We are still in the design stage, but we plan to incorporate solar panels; wind turbines; and geothermal heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems,” Sarubbi says. “We are exploring using sustainable bamboo flooring and special microfiber carpet as well.” The final design, he says, will qualify the facility for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, a national coalition of building-industry businesses that promotes environmentally responsible construction.

Teaching the Teachers

As an emerging leader in the field, HVCC also hosts an annual national conference on green tech. Last spring’s meeting was called “New Ideas in Educating a Workforce in Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency: A National Conference for Educators and Trainers.” They may need to work on their names, but their programs are doing quite well.

“We had reps from 33 states and four countries,” says Sarubbi. “More than 350 people came. Most were from community colleges and tech schools. We showed them how to set up these kinds of programs, how to get the necessary equipment, how to get funding. They all toured our labs and were thoroughly impressed. Their cameras were clicking away — I tell you, I felt like A-Rod about to hit his 500th home run.”

Many wonder if the whole “Tech Valley” thing is just a marketing gimmick. But Sarubbi believes it’s real and that jobs are coming. “Take the company Renewable Power Systems, in Rensselaer County, for example,” he says. “They are the third largest PV installer in the state. Last year they had seven employees; this year they’re up to 15. Business is booming for them. They are a microcosm for this industry. PV is really taking off. We believe that wind and geothermal will, too. So will alternative fuels.” And much of the research in nanotech is working toward clean energy — creating new solar film technology, for instance. “We are extremely excited to be training today’s technicians for tomorrow’s technology,” Sarubbi says. “It’s what we’ve been doing for more than 50 years. But we really want to be at the forefront in this field.”

 

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