Just five years ago, there were a mere handful of educational and training programs available for those interested in clean tech, primarily in advanced-degree university programs. Today, there are hundreds, if not thousands, with new ones popping up every day as a result of stimulus funds flowing to colleges and universities to fund green jobs training.
These programs are targeted to candidates at every level of experience, from those with a GED to engineering and chemistry graduates looking to develop next generation solar technologies. And while a clean tech training program won’t guarantee you a job in the industry, it will help you stand out—and deliver marketable skills as stimulus money gets spent.
Those already in the industry can gain new insight and skills by taking part in the many weekend seminars, extended learning courses, conferences and events. In fact, around the corner from every bar hosting a Green Drinks there seems to be somebody elbowing in on the action to train, teach, certify, and otherwise educate people for the promised boom in green careers.
Not all of these programs are created equally. Some might look great on paper but prove meaningless when shared with a hiring manager. But many provide an excellent preparation for an entry-level job or career change in what many, despite the ongoing downturn in the economy, expect to be fast-growing industries. And most provide an opportunity to network—which can be as valuable a takeaway as the skills—with professors, students, and those currently employed within the cleantech sector.
If you’re looking for cleantech training, here’s where to start.
Clean Tech Training at Community Colleges
In almost every state, community colleges have developed a range of training programs designed to provide vocational skills to those with little more than a high school diploma. Some offer a fast-track way into solar and wind industries by providing skills in electrical and mechanical engineering, hydraulics, and other areas for designing and installing systems. Some examples:
- Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Michigan offers a certificate in wind energy technology.
- Riverland Community College in Minnesota offers a program to become a wind turbine technician.
- Macomb Community College in Michigan offers a renewable energy certificate which surveys wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and hydrogen fuel cell technologies.
- San Juan College in New Mexico offers one- and two-year programs in photovoltaic system design and installation.
- Hudson Valley Community College in New York has a 40-hour credit-free introductory course to photovoltaics.
Other programs target training in biofuels, fuel cell technology, and geothermal. Examples include:
- Central Carolina Community College in North Carolina offers an associate degree and certificate in biofuels.
- Rockland Community College in New York offers a three-day course in the installation of geothermal heating and cooling systems.
- Lane Community College, in Oregon, includes sustainability in courses across the curriculum—including a program for sustainability coordinators.
Many of these programs are brand new—and this list is just the tip of the iceberg. If you are just starting out in your career or looking to get out of an old job and into a new one and are targeting cleantech, then check to see what courses community college districts in your state are offering. These provide an inexpensive and efficient way to get relevant skills fast.
Clean Tech Training at Four-Year Universities
While four-year colleges and universities have been greening their campuses as well as developing various programs in green training, many have already produced the scientists and engineers that play an instrumental role in developing and refining clean technologies—degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering from any reputable school provides relevant training for many entry-level roles in solar and wind, for example.
However, a few programs have launched programs dedicated to renewables; The Oregon Institute of Technology, for example, offers a bachelor’s in renewable energy and SUNY Canton offers a major in renewable and alternative energy systems.
Clemson University has a program in biofuels. At Texas Tech, you can work in the wind science and engineering research center. In Michigan, Kettering University and the University of Michigan are sharing in a government grant to create courses on hybrid electronics, batteries, and green power. The University of Massachusetts, Boston specializes in green chemistry and claims to be the first college in the country to offer a doctoral track in green chemistry. The University of Georgia has a biorefining and carbon cycling program. Caltech is a good choice if you’re interested in hydrogen fuel cells.
Of course, most undergrads will spend most of their time meeting general requirements the first couple of years—it’s not until you’re going for your master’s or PhD that you’re likely to be working directly on game-changing technologies. However, if you are interested in clean technologies, looking for a college or university that has strong advanced-degree training in your area of interest will give you access to experts those at other schools may not have.
Other Clean Tech Training Programs
You don’t have to be at a community college or university to find clean tech training. There’s a growing array of training and certification programs for doing things like home energy audits, solar installation, and wind product testing designed for continuing education students or those simply looking for training in a new field. These can be a great way for career changers to gain skills that will give them more traction on their job hunt.
- Many universities offer extended learning or summer programs, such as Montana State University’s Research Experience in Carbon Sequestration and UC Berkeley Extension’s program in Sustainable Design, and UC San Diego Extension’s course in Fundamentals of Clean Technology.
- The Windsmith Academy in Lubbock, Texas offers two-day continuing education sources in wind power.
- Additional wind training programs at community colleges, universities, and through private companies can be found at North American Windpower.
- The delightfully named Boots on the Roof and Training Solar are two of many companies offering installation and other solar training.
- The Cleantech Training Center in Austin, Texas and the Louisiana CleanTech Network offer solar training resources and resources for finding solar training programs.
- You can find out about ethanol training in Nebraska at EthanolTraining.org.
- The American Biofules Council has a Certified Biofuel Educator program.
- If you’re interested in doing home energy audits, check out the National Registry of Accredited Energy Rater Training providers.
Frank Marquardt and Cjay Roughgarden wrote this article. Frank is the author of The Solar Job Guide, which provides detailed information about getting a job in the solar industry.