Training STEM Technicians for the “Green Economy”

A new reality for the “green economy” is emerging. The green economy is less a separate sector and more integrated into existing businesses and markets. What’s more, most green occupations can be performed with existing traditional skill sets or with enhanced green training to supplement traditional skills, rather than completely new skill sets . . . What is clear is that government and business will continue to invest and integrate green practices to buffer against growing energy insecurity and rising resource prices.

– Feasibility Study: Education and training opportunity in the green economy appropriate to south King County. (2012) Highline Community College, Economic Development Programs.

 

The current STEM technician pipeline is insufficient to meet the future workforce needs of the Inland Northwest. Spokane Falls Community College (SFCC) has received funding from the National Science Foundation to help K-12 and community college faculty develop problem-based learning communities to improve the pipeline into technical careers that are becoming part of the “green economy.” The need for faculty development in this area arises from several realities. First, Spokane’s economic recovery is being led by the professional, scientific, and technical services sub-sector. Between 2011 and 2016 this sub-sector is forecasted to increase by 20%, adding nearly 3,000 jobs. But the demand for highly skilled STEM technicians is outpacing the supply.

Second, local and regional sustainability-minded industries report significant skills gaps in the current science and technology workforce. Gaps include traditional STEM skills as well as soft skills rarely emphasized in STEM courses. Finally, the “green economy” is growing but elusive because it is being integrated into existing jobs rather than arising as a separate, well defined jobs sector. Thus, training for the green economy may be most effectively achieved by integrating sustainability into existing educational programs.

We are attempting to address these issues by providing professional development opportunities in which teachers, working closely with industry partners, develop authentic problem-based learning communities that integrate sustainability into the curriculum using pedagogical approaches that will address skills gaps and help inform teachers and students about STEM technician career opportunities that will become part of tomorrow’s green economy.

This professional development project is founded on several evidence-based instructional methods that will help accomplish the projects goal and objectives. We believe that addressing real-world problems in teams will help improve student performance and increase completion rates. Learning is more effective and interest is greater when students can connect classroom content to what they will be doing in the workforce. The interdisciplinary learning community approach for which we are offering training will provide students with STEM technical training while improving soft-skill that are desired by regional STEM employers. While other projects have used similar approaches, our project attempts to integrate the best components of previous work in a unique combination to facilitate sustainability training for technicians. Our approach considers recent reports that have found the green economy is being integrated into existing jobs as opposed to a separate green sector of the economy. We believe that this approach responds to local STEM employer needs for sustainable skills using a synergistic approach of pedagogical approaches selected to address these needs while improving student success.

 

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DUE-1400699.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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