Building Clean Energy Workforce Capacity in Massachusetts: ABE Clean Energy Ambassadors Project

The clean energy sector represents a potential opportunity for Adult Basic Education (ABE) students to enter training and career pathways in a variety of occupations—engineering/technical, administrative, customer service, manufacturing, skilled trades, installation and maintenance—that can address the growing workforce needs of the sector. Equally important is to help students become informed consumers, citizens, and advocates for products, services, and policies that develop strategies for increasing efficiency and reducing energy costs as well as helping to grow and sustain the clean energy economy.

“Clean Energy,” as defined by the Massachusetts Green Jobs Act of 2008 and for the purposes of this project, means “advanced and applied technologies that significantly reduce or eliminate the use of energy from non-renewable sources, including, but not limited to: energy efficiency; demand response; energy conservation and those technologies powered in whole or in part by the sun, wind, water, biomass, alcohol, wood, fuel cells, [and] any renewable, non-depletable or recyclable fuel [or] an alternative energy-generating source.”

Massachusetts Clean Energy Sector

In Massachusetts, the clean energy sector is emerging as a powerful driver of the Massachusetts economy, according to the 2012 Clean Energy Industry Report, released by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. With 11% job growth attributed to 7,213 new jobs added in the sector between 2011-2012 and another 12% increase projected in 2013, the clean energy industry has the potential to generate thousands of jobs in the coming decades.

Further, the report indicates that the clean energy industry in Massachusetts is comprised of 4,995 clean energy firms, defined as those that are engaged in whole or in part in providing goods and services related to renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative transportation, and carbon management.

These companies are diverse in size, location, workforce needs, and primary activity related to research, products, goods, or services. Despite the diversity, some common themes emerged through the research: small businesses (10 or fewer employees) make up a large proportion of the industry growth in Massachusetts; and the majority of clean energy companies (46%) rely on referral networks and word of mouth to recruit new employees.

ABE Clean Energy Ambassadors Project

Connecting adult students to the clean energy sector is vital, particularly recognizing that the size, scale, and personalized hiring practices of the predominantly small business, owner-operated firms can work in adult students’ favor. But while adult education could play a crucial role in workforce development by teaching, inspiring, motivating and preparing low-skilled, low-income adults to pursue training for clean energy-related jobs, the ABE system has had very limited exposure to clean energy concepts and career pathways.

World Education, in partnership with Finding Earth Works, designed the ABE Clean Energy Ambassadors project to address the misalignment between the potential opportunity offered by the emerging clean energy sector and the lack of information and exposure afforded to the ABE field. The pilot project was implemented from June 2012 to May 2013 with a Workforce Capacity Grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and additional support from World Education, Inc.

The project focused on providing background information, key concept identification and real-time industry exposure to participating program staff. This information allowed them to expose students to the industries, provide guidance in career and education planning and familiarize them with the local landscape of clean energy training providers and companies.

Since not all adult education students will be interested in occupations in the clean energy industry, a project framework was developed to promote the relevance of the clean energy concepts from a variety of vantage points: home (implications for personal consumption); work (training and career opportunities); and community (local energy cooperatives, policy and advocacy). This flexible approach is vital to helping students become informed consumers, citizens and advocates for th e products, services, and policies that grow and sustain the clean energy economy.

Teaching about the challenge of our current energy use and global warming lends itself beautifully to curriculum integration; you can teach math, science, GED skills, and vocabulary. And students are keenly interested.

– Clean Energy Ambassador

Eight Massachusetts ABE programs were selected to participate in the project. Participating educators attended a series of face-to-face and online training events to identify clean energy and academic learning objectives and to develop strategies for incorporating clean energy concepts into instruction and advising. They learned about the clean energy industry, and employment and training opportunities in Massachusetts, attended a clean energy industry conference and visited two examples of clean energy companies. Simultaneously, they developed a sequence of adult education lessons to pilot in their classrooms that explore clean energy career pathways integrated with math, science, and English language skills development. Participating educators were encouraged to teach about clean energy through the lenses of academic skill building, work, home, and community. This flexibility addresses the reality that adult students’ interest may be sparked in any/all of these arenas and that not all are interested in clean energy work.

Curriculum Resource Guide

While there are myriad websites, teacher resources, and other materials dedicated to teaching about clean energy concepts, applications and occupations, very few of them are geared specifically for adult ESOL and Basic Education learners. Therefore, a key outcome of this project was to compile relevant resources for adult educators. The guide contains annotated online resources and a collection of lessons, activities and approaches developed by participating ABE Clean Energy Ambassadors, teachers and counselors involved in this project.

The lessons in the resource guide incorporate a variety of online, multi-media, and teacher-created resources and span a wide range of clean energy topics, approaches and student populations.

By increasing our focus on clean energy curriculum, we have broadened the career planning visions of our students. It has touched them personally and given them pause when considering the future of their employment and their environment.

– Clean Energy Ambassador

Student Engagement

To gain a better understanding of participating adult education students’ knowledge, awareness, attitudes and behaviors related to clean energy concepts, students who participated in the clean energy lessons were asked to complete a survey at the end of the project. Sixty percent (60%) of the respondents said that it was very likely that they would explain the importance of reducing energy to family and friends. Participating teachers and counselors reported high student interest as well as higher than expected student knowledge of clean energy concepts and current media discussions about clean energy options and regulations. In addition, many students were interested in potential clean energy careers.

How likely is it that you will do any of these activities in the next 3 months?

Graph: How likely is it that you will do any of these activities in the next 3 months?

Pie Chart- interest in job opportunitiesSixty-five percent (65%) of the students said that they were interested in learning more about training and job opportunities in the clean energy field. The chart to the right reflects the types of clean energy jobs of interest.

Participating program staff welcomed the opportunity to use clean energy as a broad focus for teaching across disciplines and felt that the content was met with high student engagement, whether in ESOL or GED classrooms or in educational counseling sessions. They found the content especially timely, given the increased emphasis on science concepts in the Common Core State Standards and GED 2014.

Given the positive results of this pilot project, World Education and Finding Earth Works are pursuing opportunities to disseminate the curriculum resources and expand the training model and approach to other states and regions. The ultimate goal is to build the capacity of the ABE field to connect learners to the emerging clean energy economy.

For more information about the project, project partners, and to download the ABE Clean Energy Ambassadors Curriculum Resource Guide, visit the project page.

The ABE Clean Energy Ambassadors Project was co-directed by Sandy Goodman, Director of Career Pathways, World Education, Inc. and Alex Risley Schroeder, Principal, Finding Earth Works.

World Education U.S. Newsletter, July 2013

Sandy Goodman, Director of Career Pathways
National College Transition Network @ World Education, Inc.