More tilting at windmills
Week after week this year, I have watch Inside Higher Ed‘s list of new stand-alone academic programs include environmental sustainability or some permutation thereof. According to the Washington Monthly’s College Guide blog (h/t), at least 100 such programs were established in 2009.
During the process of facilitating the development of West Virginia’s green jobs education and training plan, I had an opportunity to read some very rosy assessments of future green jobs needs. Those reports (e.g., O*NET) repeatedly emphasized that green jobs were primarily, but not exclusively, going to be found in existing occupations.
As a result of these assessments, the leading national report on green jobs education and training, titled Greener Pathways, had this to say: “More time should be spent embedding green skills training within current curricula, and less energy inventing new programs.” This admonition caused the West Virginia GREEN-UP Council to propose expending most new green education and training dollars on greening up existing programs and existing workers, not on starting a lot of new sustainability programs.
Is Greener Pathways right? I think so:
- To design a green building, you must have basic architectural skills.
- To build or renovate a building using green products, you must have building and construction trades skills.
- To install or retrofit an energy efficient HVAC system or maintain a wind turbine, you must have basic electro-mechanical skills.
- To ensure that a community’s water supply is environmentally safe, you must have basic chemistry and biological testing skills.
While I’m convinced that a green revolution is upon us, I worry that students pursuing these new sustainability degrees will not be able to find jobs upon graduation unless they also have other, more practical skills.
In my opinion, this push to create stand-alone environmental sustainability programs is another example of higher education being out of touch with real world needs, even as it tries to address those needs.