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Investment in green workforce training leads to a more sustainable, equitable economy

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solar array at Rock Creek.

Rock Creek Campus solar array.

Friday, Feb. 19 marked the official re-entry of the United States into the Paris Agreement, coinciding with the launch of “America Is All In” to combat climate change.

Portland Community College President Mark Mitsui serves on the advisory committee for “America Is All In” and participated in its launch event, focused on the importance of cross-sectoral collaboration on climate. Emphasizing a “whole-of-society approach,” the initiative is designed to complement the Biden-Harris administration’s whole-of-government approach. 

The launch featured an all-star line-up, with Mitsui joining businessman, politician, philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy and U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry for a discussion about climate collaboration. Mitsui, whose institution is a host partner for the Second Nature Climate Action Pursuit, highlighted the importance of climate action initiatives within higher education, the ‘training agent’ for the next generation of workers.

To reach regional climate goals, Oregon needs to invest in related green business and industry and the ‘skilling up’ of its workers, said Mitsui. If funding support isn’t done in tandem, advancement of climate action goals will stall, with skills gaps and inequities for historically underserved communities continuing to expand.

Mitsui noted that the BIPOC community is especially affected; many work in jobs that will gradually disappear, replaced by climate-related jobs requiring higher levels of skills and proficiency due to technology advances.

Mark Mitsui

Mark Mitsui.

“For every dollar we invest in the systems and processes from carbon-neutral technology, there should be an equal amount for necessary training related to those new jobs,” Mitsui said. “Otherwise, the skills and equity gaps will inhibit the transition and the ability to make and operate the new technologies.”

PCC already has established programs and training to address equity gaps and that support the inevitable transition to new tech. The college is the lead for the Pathways to Opportunity, a statewide initiative that aims to increase economic mobility by expanding the federal, state, and local resources available to low income students so more can attend and complete college.

The college is also a leader in all things ‘green.’ PCC’s award-winning sustainability program has established and guided the implementation of the college’s climate action plan and fosters engagement with students and the community in sustainable practices. Complementing this work is the climate-friendly Renewable Energy Systems: EET Option, the most comprehensive solar and wind power, fuel cell and renewable energy training of its kind in the state. And the Microelectronics Technology Program — a major partner with Intel — has a certificate option that prepares its students for technical careers in the solar industry.

But as investment in renewable energy expands in Oregon, training programs that will aid the transition to these new technologies need a corresponding increase in funding.

“The green economy will provide good jobs with living wages, but if we don’t train the workforce for these new jobs, we will see an exacerbation of the equity and the skills gaps,” Mitsui said. “Not addressing these will actually postpone a successful transition to a more sustainable economy.”

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