The future green workforce: Creating opportunities at your organization

Published on: 
9 Jul 2021
Jenny Wiedower

Feature image: EcoRise 2020 interns on a site tour of Blazier Intermediate School, a new school building under construction for the Austin Independent School District. The internship followed the progress of the new school building, offering students a window into the realities of the industry from practicing green building professionals. Photo credit: EcoRise.

Green building companies and their employees have immense opportunities to support the K–12 schools, teachers and students that produce future workers. By engaging students who want jobs that support of a more sustainable future, companies can actively shape a local emerging workforce that is prepared for green building job openings.

What is work-based learning?

According to Jobs for the Future, work-based learning is an approach to training in which a student completes meaningful tasks in a workplace, and can include experiences such as job shadowing, company tours, internships and pre-apprenticeships.

The federal government is already a major supporter. In the latest version of the funding mechanism for career technical education (CTE), Perkins V, work-based education is among the top priorities for states to implement. High schools across America are setting up work-based learning opportunities with companies in their communities and preparing students with the soft skills needed for these experiences, such as teamwork, communications and critical thinking.

Work-based learning can also help students develop a professional network beginning in high school, which is especially important for students from lower-income families. LinkedIn found that factors like where you grow up, where you go to school and where you work can give you an advantage of up to 12 times more access to opportunity.

Given this inequity, employers should take extra measures to reach students who are disadvantaged by circumstance. Your company’s work-based learning opportunity could change the course of a student’s future. If your employer has a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative, consider how you can increase access to job opportunities for students who are Black, female or have lower incomes—groups that are underrepresented in the green building sector.

What can you do to create learning opportunities for students?

Here are a few examples of how your company can create effective work-based learning opportunities that are preparing students of all backgrounds for careers in green building:

Job shadowing

Job shadowing involves a student spending time alongside a professional, observing what they do and how they work, for a period of a few hours to a few weeks. Hosting a job shadowing opportunity can be coordinated through a school district’s career office (usually called CTE or workforce development), or directly from a company’s job openings page.

Morrissey Engineering, a USGBC member company based in Omaha, Nebraska, offers a recurring job shadowing program for high schoolers who are curious about becoming mechanical or electrical engineers. Among the benefits of their program is developing relationships that will help students find internships and jobs in the future.


Internships—ideally, paid—are usually a longer-term and more project-oriented opportunity for a high school student to contribute to a company’s work, while gaining employability skills and building their resume. As with job shadowing, any company can host internships and recruit through their own network; or, it can partner with a local organization that provides a structure for the duration of the internship.

EcoRise, a USGBC Education Partner, coordinates green building internships for traditionally underrepresented students in Texas and Massachusetts. EcoRise provides training sessions for the students and partners with local professionals who help to integrate field experiences.

Youth apprenticeships

Youth apprenticeships give high school students the opportunity to experience technical, on-the-job-training, and they are expanding across the country, according to New America’s Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship, because of their focus on “connecting the learning needs of students with the talent needs of industry.”

It’s common for young apprentices to work 16 to 24 hours a week during the school year, then increase their workload during summers and after high school graduation. The cost of coursework is often subsidized by high schools or community organizations. The CEO of Siemens, Inc. recently spoke about their experience with youth apprenticeships. Listen to the video, and then take the next step by exploring setting up a youth apprenticeship program in your company.

Take action

First, do a little research to find out if high schools in your areas already have a process for setting up work-based learning opportunities that are aligned with existing career-oriented programs of study. Usually, school district websites include information about workforce development programs, often called Career Tech Education (CTE). Call the CTE coordinator to learn about work-based learning options.

Then, have an informed discussion with your company’s leadership and human resources about setting up structured opportunities to bring students into your work.

If you get the green light, think about who will need to be involved from your company, what projects or programs are best suited to job shadowing, internships or youth apprenticeships, and what time of year you’re interested in hosting. Consider how you can reach all students in your community, in order to develop opportunities that are inclusive and meaningful.

This is the first in a series of six articles that will explore how green building businesses and green building professionals can support the future green building workforce. We’ll also cover:

  • Mentorship of students
  • Supporting secondary-level educators (grades 6–12)
  • Industry certifications for teachers and students
  • Industry advisory councils for CTE
  • Classroom engagement

Have a story to share about how you’ve supported middle and high schools in building a green building career? We’d love to know! Email Jenny Wiedower with your story.

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