Victoria Cooper can rattle off the challenges that green job training programs face as quickly as she can the reasons for excitement. Cooper, who directs environmental technology programs at Chicago’s Wilbur Wright College, cautions that there’s “no such thing as recession-proof jobs.” Yet green workers will be required if the United States is to clean up the messes of global warming and pollution. “Everyone thinks this is a panacea and is going to change the world,” Cooper said. “The reality is there’s a lot of work to be done, and it’s complicated.”
Some places to start are the areas in which Wright College’s programs prepare students: energy auditing, managing hazardous materials, alternative energy, and environmentally friendly construction. Cooper estimates that 90 percent of the program’s graduates—22 so far since fall 2006, with 22 more students enrolled—are employed in jobs in which they use skills they learned at the school.
Buildings are a key area for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through cutting fossil-fuel use. Residential, commercial, and public buildings account for 38 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, and consume 72 percent of the nation’s electricity, according to the independent organization the U.S. Green Building Council. New buildings can be designed to be environmentally friendly. Older buildings can be made more energy efficient. Wright, a city college of Chicago, offers a building energy occupational technologies certificate to students who complete six courses on energy systems for commercial and residential buildings, the technical aspects of alternative and renewable energy sources, and building operation and maintenance.