Community colleges offer clean energy training as climate-related jobs grow across America

DANVILLE, Illinois (AP) – On Chicago’s south side, students learn to work on Rivian electric pickup trucks and SUVs through a new technician program at Olive-Harvey College.

About 150 miles (240 kilometers) south, students at Danville Area Community College in Illinois are taught how to troubleshoot giant wind turbines several meters high, as well as climbing and safety.

In Albuquerque, students train in wiring and installing solar panels through Central Mexico Community College’s electrical trades courses.

And in Boston, students study how to strengthen homes and buildings against extreme temperatures at Roxbury Community College’s Smart Building Technology Center. The focus is on automating and modernizing heating and air conditioning systems so that they contribute less to climate change.

They’re all examples of how students across the United States are looking to community colleges for up-to-date training for the growing number of jobs in climate solutions—from electrification, to wind and solar, to energy efficiency, weatherization, water and land farm protection and more.

Kyle Johnson has long enjoyed working on gasoline-fueled cars. But cars are becoming more electric.

“When it came to EVs, I knew that times are changing, and I didn’t want to be left behind,” said the 34-year-old, who is now enrolled at Olive – Harvey. “Climate change has a lot to do with it. to my decision.”

The warming planet is piqued the interest of many students like Johnson. The job market was already changing as more businesses stepped up to address climate change, and now more investment is being added to legislation, including the Inflation Reduction Act 2022, which meaning they will have plenty of jobs to pursue. Millions of clean energy workers are needed to meet ambitious targets set by governments and companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, so many of these job opportunities are growing faster than employment. total in USA.

Instructor Brian Lovell has seen that firsthand.

“Even though the students are still in the program, they get hired because the demands of the industry are so sharp,” he told Roxbury. “We’ve seen a lot of progress over the last couple of years.”

Of course, job seekers can train the workforce through local employers and labor unions to acquire skills for clean energy trades. But community colleges take their cues directly from companies in their regions and from the state’s economic development and labor departments, quickly adapting practical training, paired with academics, to open jobs.

“More than half of these jobs will require less than a bachelor’s degree and more than a high school diploma,” said Kate Kinder, executive director of the National Council on Workforce Education. “That’s a prime community college space.”

The prospects draw in students like Tannar Pouilliard, who remembers a wind farm coming up fast near his childhood home. He thought he would be an automotive technician, but when he learned about wind opportunities he enrolled in Danville’s wind energy technician courses.

“Twisting strings and all that stuff, it’s always what I wanted to do. It’s just a broader opportunity,” he said. “It opens the door for people out here for jobs.”

At the same time, the bigger picture for community colleges is that they are losing students, unlike the rest of higher education. Currently, more people are entering the workforce straight out of high school, and some community colleges have not recovered from the drop in enrollment that occurred during the pandemic. That’s why some schools say investing in these programs is a balancing act between staying relevant and betting on too much technology.

“We feel the pressure,” said Monica Brummer, director of the Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy at Centralia Community College in Washington. “If we create a curriculum today for, say, a hydrogen technician, it may not be the curriculum we need in two or three years, because the technology is changing so quickly… we say weave the technology in existing classes.”

Some schools hope to adapt without using expensive new tools and specialist teachers, who are hard to find. Minnesota’s Inver Hills Community College launched a climate change certificate in 2022, drawing from the school’s current areas of study and administrators are considering expanding that. Similarly, Cape Cod Community College recently transitioned from specialized workforce training to a broader sustainable energy certificate that students in fields of study can pursue.

Other community colleges focus on helping students like Sarah Solis transfer to a four-year degree related to climate change.

It was the 1,000-acre Inglewood Oil Field, near West Los Angeles College, where she first enrolled, that inspired Solis to pursue environmental studies. She later switched to the school’s climate change phase, which was new at the time. Its climate offerings have expanded since then; it now hosts the California Center for Climate Change Education.

Solis transferred to the University of California, Davis, pursuing a degree in environmental science and management. But she credits her success today teaching urban farms how to sustainably adapt to a warming future – such as adding cover crops or using compost – to her community college experience.

Many other students do, too.

“Life changed completely,” Solis said. “I wouldn’t be the environmental scientist I am now if I hadn’t gone to the West.”


St. John reported from Detroit.


Alexa St. is an Associated Press climate solutions reporter. John. Follow her on X, previously Twitter, @alexa_stjohn. Contact her at


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