By: Cat Mosley, Community Relations Director
As our industry continues to grow, ensuring a solid future workforce starts with getting kids excited now. Teaching young people about renewable energy is one of the single most powerful conduits to inspire a career in this fast-growth industry, allowing them to focus on future job paths and the necessary preparation.
While renewable energy jobs haven’t been immune to the impacts of COVID-19, overall, the industry is ripe with opportunity. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, solar installers and wind technicians continue to be the fastest-growing jobs in the country with projected growth of 63% and 57% respectively over the next eight years. Meanwhile, interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers has decreased. The percentage of boys ages 13 to 17 interested in STEM careers dropped from 36% in 2017 to 24% in 2018, according to a national survey of teens by Ernst & Young and Junior Achievement USA. The share of girls interested in STEM careers stayed unchanged at 11%. Expanding student access to energy education and interest in STEM is an issue of national prosperity, setting students up for future success.
When we can get young people excited about renewable energy, their parents and grandparents often follow. Education outreach through the schools is a great way to reach the broader communities with the facts about the energy transition in their own towns.
Our efforts are underscored by what we are seeing now in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. At a time when learning is happening online and at home, we’re working to ensure students have the online connections they need to continue their education under these new and unusual circumstances. We have worked with several communities in supporting wireless hotspots in underserved areas, and we have also invested in supporting basic student needs such as contributing to food banks that serve school children and their families. We believe every child should have the opportunity for success, and in these challenging times, we are happy to step up with these types of support.
From Pre-K through High School
It’s never too early or late to learn about sustainability and renewable energy. Personally, I have given books to Pre-K kids encouraging them to care about nature and the environment and teaching them to be good stewards of Mother Earth. Our engineering and construction partner Mortenson also has some great books with curriculums – Catch the Sun and Chase the Wind – that we can use to introduce students to wind and solar power in elementary schools.
In Virginia, which is a priority state for sPower, the clean energy goals are some of the most aggressive in the southern region of the U.S. It is an emerging clean energy market, and we have both existing projects and future development there. Recently, it has been a great experience to partner with the Virginia Department of Education on its new Energy Cluster Curriculum which will launch the 2020-21 academic year. This will be a great introduction for high school students to the industry and to sustainable energy, in particular. The state recognizes the need to develop the future workforce, and through this and other statewide initiatives in which we participate, such as the Virginia Energy Workforce Consortium, we are building the blocks to future success.
In an effort to introduce middle school and high school students to the breadth of careers within the renewable energy industry, Spotsylvania County Schools (VA) invited us to present renewable job opportunities to students through a virtual renewable energy career fair. This included a video featuring several sPower employees sharing stories of their early years and interests, and how they ended up in the industry which we have now offered nationwide. We also have a live presentation that can be given in person or virtually. In it, we stress the plentiful job opportunities beyond wind turbine technicians and solar installers. For example, I am a writer and public relations professional, and I work in renewables, educating the general public about this emerging industry. There are diverse career opportunities in the renewable energy sector, from environmental, legal, engineering, construction, and the list goes on.
Beyond being a resource for students, we want to benefit teachers too. Educators have so much on their plates right now, so we are happy to share and complement what they are already trying to teach. Beyond classroom resources, we have supported the Teacher of the Year programs and teacher trainings.
sPower is also getting creative when it comes to crafting agreements with higher education off-takers to help benefit college students and sustainability education. We are working with The University of Richmond to integrate various educational opportunities within our agreement which will capitalize on the emerging green energy economy in Virginia. This will include tours of operational sites, internship opportunities, and funding the creation of a solar installation certification curriculum.
We also have a growing relationship with James Madison University’s Center for Sustainable Energy which implements statewide renewable energy competitions where students build projects powered by solar and wind energy. Through these types of STEM activities, they are not only learning about renewables but also strengthening their leadership, negotiation, problem-solving, and team-working skills for the real world.I currently work with an intern who recently graduated from George Mason University and is interested in pursuing a community relations career in renewable energy. It has been a pleasure to watch her grow and learn from the work we do. Another former intern told me she knew she wanted to be a wind technician when she visited a wind farm in fifth grade. That field trip set her life’s course. Early exposure can really inspire kids and help them chart a path for the rest of their lives.
“In response to the COVID-19 crisis, educators throughout the U.S. have been challenged with finding new ways to engage students while teaching online,” said Remy Pangle, Director/Education Manager of James Madison University’s Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Energy. “It is great to see a company so invested in educating the youth to grow their workforce.”
In conclusion, students welcome the opportunity to learn about renewable energy and it makes good business sense for sPower to support and facilitate these efforts. We are bombarded with negative news about the economy, job losses, and climate change, but I am very hopeful for these younger generations. I have found them to be inspired and eager to make a difference and to lead sustainable lives. If sPower can open a door and offer kids hope for the future, it only helps our company, our industry, and our economy. Our children will lead us into the future; the sky is the limit for them.