The future green workforce: Investing in teachers

Published on: 
5 Aug 2021
Jenny Wiedower

Feature image: Gary Pease, vice president and director of client services for Nitsch Engineering, shows a group of Boston Public Schools teacher externs the plans for a tower being built in downtown Boston. Photo credit Kellyanne Mahoney.

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.

Help educators learn about green building careers

In this series, we’ve covered how companies and professionals can support career pipelines by creating work-based learning opportunities, providing career mentoring, engaging directly with classes, and shaping curriculum. A great way to support students—your future workforce—is to invest in their teachers’ professional development. Helping even one teacher can in turn reach between 20 and 150 students each year. Green building is a rapidly expanding field, and industry partners can help educators’ knowledge of the field stay current and relevant. That helps your company prepare local job candidates who have the knowledge and skills to get right to work.

Across the U.S., companies are engaging with teachers in knowledge exchanges that are mutually beneficial. Whether via teacher externships, mentoring or events that connect teachers to industry, there are likely already opportunities in your community to plug into or catalyze. Here are some examples we like, and the impact they are having:


Externships are a unique professional development opportunity where teachers are immersed in a company to learn about the skills and competencies needed to succeed in that industry or career path. The experience strengthens an educator’s teaching abilities and brings relevant, real-world context into the classroom. For a company, an externship program provides a sustained relationship with schools, which leads them to be ultimately more effective in creating a pipeline of future employees.

In Oregon, for example, the Willamette Education Service District (ESD) partnered with the local chapter of the Associated General Contractors to respond to unfilled positions in the construction industry. Though educators are tasked with preparing students for life and careers beyond school, Willamette ESD manager Cherie Clark says, “The reality is that they don’t always have industry experience, or if they do, it’s outdated.”

Since 2016, the Willamette externship program has hosted hundreds of educators in externships within local construction companies. For eight days during the summer, teachers engage in experiences from the job site to the administrative office to learn employability skills that can be transferred to the classroom and build relationships with local businesses. Teachers earn master's-level course credit and are provided a stipend for their time from local and federal workforce funds.

On the other coast, USGBC member companies Gilbane, Autodesk, Nitsch Engineering and Elkus Manfredi Architects paired up with Boston Public Schools and United Way to host an externship program focused on green and sustainable design in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industries. Kellyanne Mahoney, youth program specialist at Autodesk, shares that the goal for the externship program is to create a space for educators to learn and apply cutting-edge tools to improve learning in the classroom and prepare students for future work. Bringing together multiple firms within one program allows them to model the cross-industry collaboration that is needed to meet increasing demands on the industry. This is top of mind for these four firms: Boston’s building industry is booming, and, as Mahoney says, “We believe the industry would benefit by gaining a wider diversity of perspectives to address pressing issues such as those related to sustainability.”

Similar to Oregon, the Boston externship program spans two weeks, includes on-site experiences and a stipend for teachers, and culminates with teachers developing a lesson plan based on what they’ve learned. Over the years, Autodesk employees have engaged with the teacher externs by leading workshops and serving as one-on-one mentors, which gives them insight into how to best open career pathways into the AEC industry for all students. Mahoney shares, “If teachers can see themselves in these roles, then they will be more likely to see their students in them. If they embrace a mindset of continuous learning and adaptability, then their students will too.”

Teacher-industry events

Teacher-industry events provide a quicker opportunity for teachers to learn about careers directly from the professionals employed in an industry. Over the course of a couple of hours, educators can hear from professionals talking about the type of work they do, emerging trends, and skills and knowledge that are required of employees. Teachers walk away with from-the-source information about the occupations for which they prepare students, as well as new relationships with local companies. The career technical education (CTE) department in Salem Keizer Public Schools in Oregon partners with its local chamber of commerce to host a CTE and Industry Summit each year, with time slots for nearly 20 industry sectors, including "Architecture and Construction" and "Engineering and Manufacturing."

The ultimate value of these programs that support educators is that everyone benefits: educators, their students, companies and the local economy. As Mahoney notes, “As we prepare for the future of work and the health of our planet, teachers need a seat at the table.”

Take action: Grow green building knowledge among teachers

Find existing programs to expand into green building. Your local school district, chamber of commerce, workforce development board and/or professional association may already have programs set up to support teachers’ professional development—ask how you can infuse green building knowledge into them. If such programs don’t already exist, contact your school district’s CTE department to discuss how your company could support teachers of architecture, construction, energy, engineering and so on. Your local USGBC community could be a great partner in hosting an event to bring together teachers and green building professionals, using one of the models described above.

If you want to connect directly to teachers with an offer to mentor on green building topics and experiences, ask your school district’s CTE department to suggest teachers within the schools and programs that best align with your company’s work and your professional skill sets. Programs such as EcoRise’s Green Building Academy provide a platform for industry professionals to support teachers while they receive training in green building instruction.

This is the fifth in a series of six articles that will explore how green building businesses and 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