July 18, 2011 (El Cajon) – A $1 million grant stemming from federal stimulus money injected into the economy in 2009 has ended a productive run at Cuyamaca College, with hundreds of students completing a workforce training program and many attaining promising new careers in the green industry.
One such person is Paul Schankin, a San Carlos resident who found himself unemployed in August 2010 after 15 years working the technical side of the television and multimedia industry. He was recently hired by Synergy Companies, a Bay Area-based energy management company, to analyze the potential energy savings of existing homes.
He decided to pursue an interest in working at a green job and took several classes over a four-month period offered through Cuyamaca College’s Clean Energy Workforce Training Program to obtain the national Building Performance Institute, or BPI, credentials needed to become an energy analyst. The grant program was administered by the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District’s Continuing Education and Workforce Training program based at Cuyamaca College in Rancho San Diego.
“The training I received at Cuyamaca introduced me to the software programs and some of the technologies that are used by firms to analyze buildings and residences for modification or enhancements like double-pane windows to lower energy use,” Schankin said. “I am grateful for the career opportunity that Cuyamaca provided me. Whatever they can do to retrain the displaced workforce is very useful.”
As a recognized leader in green economic and workforce development in San Diego County, Cuyamaca College was the only college in the county and one of about a dozen statewide awarded the grant from the California Clean Energy Workforce Training Program, a state initiative to stimulate the economy by developing and offering green job training.
The grant was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and was used to train 251 students at Cuyamaca and Palomar colleges in solar thermal and solar photovoltaic installation, as well as training in becoming a certified building analyst to assess energy efficiency in homes.
The college also used the grant to offer job placement workshops specific to the green industry and to sponsor free public events such as a green business symposium last May. The gathering brought together more than 200 industry leaders, green employers and graduates of Cuyamaca’s green job program to identify growth opportunities and ways to create new jobs in the region’s fledgling green industry.
Another outgrowth of Cuyamaca’s grant program was the San Diego Green Workforce Coalition, a partnership of the college district, the San Diego Workforce Partnership, and the California Center for Sustainable Energy. The San Diego Workforce Partnership funds job training programs for emerging careers in green jobs, healthcare and clean technology. The third partner is a nonprofit promoting a clean energy future.
The workforce coalition was formed to provide industry expertise to ensure the Cuyamaca program reflected relevant training for green jobs. It also sought to provide opportunities for employment for program graduates.
“Cuyamaca College has long been on the forefront of preparing students for green jobs. We’re proud of our innovative offerings available through our Continuing Education and Workforce Training program, as well as programs such as ornamental horticulture, water and wastewater technology, environmental health and safety, and sustainable landscaping,” said Cindy L. Miles, chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District.
Through the grant program, students earned 394 industry-recognized certificates and 138 national BPI certificates. A particularly innovative offering was a class in how to start up a green business, in which Cuyamaca partnered with Southwestern College’s Small Business Development Center.
Keen interest in green
The numbers of students receiving multiple certifications points to their keen interest in pursuing green careers, said Darlene Spoor, dean of continuing education and workforce training at Cuyamaca.
“We just really listened to our students and developed additional classes that the students needed and requested,” Spoor said. “People stayed engaged and because we were able to expand our offerings, our students are well prepared to compete in the job market.”
With the grant-funded program now ended, the college is pursuing other means to continue offering the training, either through additional grants or student fees. The college has applied to become a full-fledged training center for BPI’s national certifications and has taken 10 of the program’s most promising graduates and trained them to become BPI instructors.
Sharon Rogers-Andrews is one of the graduates selected to teach the BPI classes within the next few months, once the college becomes a BPI-affiliated training site.
Effusive in her praise for Cuyamaca, Rogers-Andrews is excited about the opportunity to share what she’s learned in the five BPI classes she’s taken. Despite being unemployed for the past 2 ½ years after working in management positions, she manages to remain upbeat, seeing a lot of potential in an emerging field.
“I know this is the beginning of a new market,” said the Oklahoma transplant.
Molly Hughes, project coordinator for Cuyamaca’s program, said finding jobs for graduates has been more difficult than expected, largely because proposed federal legislation to provide funding incentives to homeowners for green-energy conversions fell through, as did the proposed requirement for energy efficiency audits of new and existing home sales. Without that legislation, the demand lessened for workers in those fields.
On the horizon is a pilot program announced in the spring by the Department of Energy and the Department of Housing and Urban Development that will soon allow qualified homeowners to take advantage of PowerSaver loans of up to $25,000 for energy-saving measures, including the installation of solar panels.
Hughes said more students have recently reported that they were hired, an indication that the market for green jobs is increasing.
“More people are realizing that the green economy is the wave of the future and that community colleges are in the best position to offer transitional training. It’s what we do best – workforce training,” Hughes said.
For more information about the colleges and the district, go to www.gcccd.edu.