The future green workforce: Engaging directly in learning experiences

Published on: 
23 Jul 2021
Jenny Wiedower

Feature image: photo credit: Rido from Adobe Stock.

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 a more sustainable future, companies can actively shape a local emerging workforce that is prepared for green building job openings.

Invest in future green building professionals

Creating work-based learning opportunities in your company and providing career mentoring are excellent strategies for supporting students who are pursuing a green building career path. Another way your company can support local schools while inspiring career connections is to donate your time, expertise or resources directly to classes.

For over a decade, Creekside High School career academy teacher Ali Pressel has been partnering with professionals from her local community. The teacher in St. Augustine, Florida, notes the impact it has on her own professional growth, as well as her students’ growth in her environmental science classes. “I feel like I would be lost without my partners in the classroom,” she says.

Students work on a project at a work table

Photo credit: Alicia Pressel.

Pressel’s students have had the opportunity to learn from their “geomentor,” who flies drones around their school to demonstrate how geographic information system images can help analyze situations with the school building and grounds. A different group of industry partners participates in the school’s Project Green program, advising on technical and communication aspects of student projects. Yet another business partner helps students create portfolios to express themselves during career explorations.

In Salem Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Oregon, career technical education (CTE) director Jim Orth agrees that engagement by a business partner brings next-level learning for students. He recommends that partners bring to the classroom an activity they do on a normal basis in their job, something that students can engage directly with and that orients them to tasks involved in an occupation that could become theirs in the future. “The time industry donates to the classroom is more valuable than donations," says Orth. "For companies, it’s onboarding. They can train the students the way they want them to be in the field.”

Students work on a project with technical tools

Photo credit: Alicia Pressel.

More examples of ways businesses can directly support learning experiences include:

  • STEM Hubs, which exist in regions across the country, offer a way for companies to spark interest in green building at an earlier age. Networks such as those in Arkansas and Lincoln, Nebraska, offer abundant opportunities for businesses to engage students in STEM-based experiences.
  • Student leadership programs like SkillsUSA thrive on volunteer support for their student competitions in career clusters such as architecture and construction or STEM.
  • If you want to expand your reach, leverage a platform like Nepris, that connects educators and learners with a network of industry professionals, virtually, bringing real-world relevance and career exposure to all students.

Having community partners in the classroom, Pressel says, “the students automatically become more engaged in what they’re learning, because it feels like they are contributing to real-world connections outside of the classroom.”

Take action: how to support a student’s interest in green building

Reach out to the CTE department at your local school district to learn which schools offer programs that align with your green building competencies (design, engineering, construction, etc.). Ask them to introduce you to an administrator, career specialist or educator so you can learn more about ways your company can support the work they’re already doing.

Some districts, like Salem Keizer, have robust webpages for industry opportunities. You may be connected directly with a teacher who can describe opportunities to support student learning experiences. Pressel suggests, “Share a short bio with the school or teacher, then ask ‘what are specific needs you have?' 'Any topics that we can share resources or materials [on] with you and students?’”

Then, talk with colleagues at your company about what resources you can make available to support a class—maybe it’s taking time to coach students through a hands-on project, maybe it’s loaning technical tools for a real-world simulation or maybe it’s orchestrating a project tour. Clear communication with both the teacher and your coworkers will set you and everyone involved up for the most rewarding experience.

After you’ve established a relationship with a teacher, consider how you might turn your one-time contribution into an annual one. School staff interviewed for this article agree that the companies and teachers who have sustained relationships year after year are the most successful partnerships. Soon, you’ll be able to connect with the teacher over the summer to provide feedback and make adjustments as they—and you—plan out the school year.

This is the third 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:

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

Explore green building career resources