Strengthen Oregon's workforce with clean energy jobs
Careers for Oregon workers, new graduates and experienced laborers, are changing as our economy evolves. Preparing people for success, who are entering the workforce or who are transitioning careers, means putting our effort into the sectors of the economy that are growing. We can't depend on clinging to the old way of doing things, hoping the world will stop spinning.
I have been involved in the renewable energy sector for more than half of my life: as a wind turbine technician, a fuel cell technician, a drafter for a fuel cell company, and now an educator. For me, this work is personal.
Now, as an instructor in the Renewable Energy Technician Program at Clackamas Community College, I see the difference renewable energy programs like ours make in the lives of our students and the local companies that hire them.
We work with recent high school graduates, exiting military and others wanting to pursue a second career. Our program offers certifications for those wanting to work on solar, wind or geothermal energy. Renewable energy technology is applicable to so many jobs. My students have never had trouble finding a job after completing our program. Renewable energy skills are valued and wanted, and employers are willing to pay good money for it.
In 2018, the Oregon Legislature has the opportunity to solidify Oregon as a national leader in the clean energy economy. The Clean Energy Jobs bill would put a limit and price on climate pollution from the largest polluters in the state. It would secure greenhouse gas reductions and reinvestment into communities across Oregon to create clean energy jobs and a thriving economy, especially in communities that need it most.
In the same way that a Department of Labor program helped displaced Oregon City mill workers find a new career through my program, Clean Energy Jobs would set aside funds to help Oregonians become trained in renewable energy fields. Dollars from Clean Energy Jobs will help people pay for solar on their homes or for small businesses to make upgrades to use less energy for heating and cooling, which saves on bills. All the new, statewide demand for clean energy will increase demand for workers to complete those projects. It's a win-win: for Oregon workers and for the environment.
Our student makeup is as diverse as our program. In our first year, we worked with many former employees of Oregon City's Blue Heron paper mill who lost their jobs when the mill shut down. We trained 30 students so they could pursue higher-paying jobs in related but different fields.
We have also worked with displaced construction workers, who were put out of work during the housing market crash and recession. Once the economy picked up, we began to enroll students who were already employed, but sought additional certifications so they could add to their portfolio.
At Clackamas Community College we're doing our part to train the workers of this new economy, and with increased incentives and investment we could train more people for the family-wage paying jobs offered in renewable energy. I hope, on behalf of my students, that this bill will become law in 2018. In giving Oregon the chance to realize its clean energy potential, we'd be giving countless workers the chance to realize their professional potential too.
Abe Fouhy is a renewable energy, industrial maintenance and alternative fuel instructor at Clackamas Community College