The future green workforce: Supporting student access to industry certifications

Published on: 
11 Aug 2021
Jenny Wiedower

Feature image photo credit: Student and teacher explore and analyze a blueprint of a public space with the goal of incorporating more sustainable design at an EcoRise green building workshop.

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 and its 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, shaping curriculum and investing in teachers. As part of the U.S. Green Building Council’s community, you’re probably aware of the role of industry credentials in verifying knowledge and skills in a particular topic or vocation. LEED professional credentials are well-documented as helping green building professionals gain – and share – knowledge of the field and stay at the forefront of sustainability topics. Such credentials are increasingly important in high school career technical education (CTE) programs, helping students and teachers attain and apply industry knowledge and skills.

In fact, one of the components of Perkins V, the federal program that funds CTE programs in schools nationwide, is that career-aligned programs of study (e.g., Architecture and Construction, Engineering, Manufacturing, etc.) must culminate in an industry certification. As such, federal funding supports the pursuit of industry certification and many states and districts pre-approve credentials deemed valuable to their respective industry.

In Florida — one of the states that has approved the LEED Green Associate exam — teachers can access Career and Professional Education (CAPE) funding to offset the cost of purchasing study material and registering students for the exam. Ali Pressel, a teacher in the environmental science career academy at Creekside High School, has helped more than 40 of her students over the last five years pursue the LEED Green Associate credential – with about an 80% first-time pass rate. She credits the credential’s rigor for being included on the CAPE list, and its student discount for making it accessible, “so students or their parents don’t have to pay for it.”

Industry credentials aren’t simply teaching-to-the-test: green building curriculum is turning up in more and more classrooms across the country because teachers and administrators realize how the content helps them meet multiple learning objectives. Heather McCombs, author of the LEED Green Associate Exam Preparation Guide published by ATP and instructor of exam prep courses for 13 years has begun working with high school teachers to bring the content into their classrooms. She explains that through the pursuit of green building industry credentials, students gain sustainability literacy, technical knowledge around building sciences, inspiration from solutions-oriented thinking and practical knowledge they can immediately apply to buildings they occupy.

Take action to improve access to industry certifications.

Advocate for your state or district to adopt the LEED Green Associate as an approved industry certificate.

Through an online search or by reaching out directly to your state or local school district’s CTE office, you can determine whether the credential has already been adopted as an approved industry certification (what it looks like in DC and Ohio). If it hasn’t, learn the process for applying and coordinate with your local USGBC community to submit requested documentation (usually an application and perhaps testimonial from local professionals).

While the LEED Green Associate is the most widely-recognized and comprehensive green building designation, additional credentials that focus on more specific facets are gaining steam, such as the GPRO Fundamentals of Green Building which teaches green construction and building operations; and Passive House Primer, which teaches construction and real estate that emphasizes energy efficiency and ventilation. If you are a practitioner and/or credential holder, consider how you might inform and advocate for additional green-building related industry certifications that align with CTE programs of study in your community.

Remember, industry certifications that have been pre-approved have a fast track to the classroom. But even where not pre-approved, teachers can still include them in their plans through a more manual process. That’s where you can also help.

Support students’ pursuit of credentials.

Work with your local USGBC community and/or your local district’s CTE program to bring to a relevant teacher the idea of using LEED as a framework for learning green building. Offer your support in preparing the educator to teach the content (either through planning or by engaging directly with students), and together, explore how to help the school access funds to offset the cost of the LEED Green Associate exam for students who choose to pursue it.

Connect up with existing programs like EcoRise’s Green Building Academy, where teachers are provided training, adapted curricular materials and study materials (through a partnership with exam prep provider GBES). Through this program, nearly 3,000 students have participated in green building education, including 23 students and 8 teachers who have taken the LEED Green Associate exam. Volunteer your time to bring real-world examples to the classroom as students establish foundational knowledge through the LEED framework.

Sponsor a teacher’s pursuit of the LEED Green Associate credential.

Once obtained, the credential is a fantastic way for a teacher to indicate mastery of the topic of green building. Your financial support can make pursuit of the credential possible, and your technical support (think of yourself as a study buddy) can make the difference in the teacher’s confidence heading into the exam. Reach out to your school district’s CTE office to learn which teachers may be a good fit and connect with them and offer your support.

This is the last 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’ve also covered:

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.

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