Advancing Training Pathways for the Sustainable Energy Workforce
The Pacific Northwest region has a high density of renewable energy businesses that require a technologically skilled workforce. Bellingham Technical College, in close collaboration with Western Washington University (WWU) and the Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy (Center), is developing an Associate in Applied Science-Transfer Degree (AAS-T) in Sustainable Energy, which offers both preparation for technician level employment and the option of seamless transfer to a baccalaureate degree program at WWU. The jointly developed curriculum included in the Sustainable Energy Degree has enhanced general education requirements, including applied math and science courses that adequately prepare students to enter a university. A significant and novel feature of this program is the inclusion of specialized certificate options enabling graduates to enter the industry as trained technicians in several technical specializations. The AAS-T degree provides a significant opportunity to export the model to other states.
This pathway model demonstrates a new way of offering training as well as a new way of teaching. Being offered at a 2-year open-door institution, this model provides new training opportunities for traditionally under-served community members. The college has a strong focus on serving nontraditional students and is working to increase the number of women entering advanced technology training. This degree offers new opportunities to obtain meaningful and applicable education and secure employment in a growing and well-paid career field.
To maximize regional workforce alignment with the educational experience, the Center is convening and facilitating industry focus groups from among their existing stakeholders to obtain targeted input on emerging fields in Sustainable Energy. Once compiled, the project will disseminate these industry-driven training standards by leveraging an energy careers web portal developed by the Center under a Department of Energy grant. This career lattice is already in use throughout a six-state region and the inclusion of this new material adds to its usefulness as well as serves a student and educator audience in Northwestern states.
There is an immediate and growing need for sustainable energy technological training at all levels. The college is a leader in technical education with a long-standing reputation for responding to industry needs by employing experienced technical experts as faculty and maintaining cutting edge applied learning labs. The partners provide expertise in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, research, and best practice dissemination and have established relationships with not only each other, but with industry leaders. The key team members for this project are experienced educators, researchers, and industry experts. Washington State has an interconnected two-year college system supported by the State Board of Community & Technical Colleges which encourages innovation and provides an efficient platform to share best practices.