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Central Carolina Community College is in the forefront of training green-collar workforce

Posted Saturday, April 11, 2009

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Pittsboro, NC - Mike Granger worked carefully with tape and mastic, sealing off air leaks in an older Pittsboro building. Others working alongside him were checking for air leaks, and sealing ducts, wall tops and an attic crawl space.

All are students in Central Carolina Community College’s “Weatherization and Energy Efficiency” class, part of the college’s Continuing Education Department’s Green Building/Renewable Energy program at its Chatham County Campus.

“I took this class originally because I wanted to save money on my energy bills,” Granger said. “But honestly, I have grown more interested in saving others money on their energy bills.”

Saving money on building energy costs can be done by either designing energy efficiency into a new building or by retrofitting and renovating an existing one. Either way, the process is known as sustainable building or green building, so called because the goal is to reduce the impact of buildings on natural resources.

Green building uses construction, retrofitting and renovation materials and methods that are energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Recycled materials, effective insulation, water efficiency and recycling, and renewable resources for heating water and generating electricity accomplish this.

The green building industry is growing rapidly. In 2007, according to the Green Collar Jobs Report, there were more than 9 million jobs in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries in the United States. The report forecasts that, by 2030, there will be 37 million jobs.

The challenge is finding enough appropriately trained workers. Community colleges, with a major focus on workforce development and the ability to respond quickly to community workforce needs, will provide the bulk of this training. In February 2009, the North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges established Code Green, a new initiative that commits the community college system to a major expansion of training for the green-collar workforce, as well as incorporating sustainable practices and building methods at its campuses.

Central Carolina Community College is in the forefront of training the green-collar workforce.

“The Green Building/Renewable Energy program at the Chatham County Campus is part of the college’s commitment to sustainability,” said Dr. Karen Allen, the college’s Chatham provost. “We have become known as ‘Green Central’ because of our commitment to and offering of sustainable programs in agriculture, biofuels and construction. New programs are being added, including ecotourism and a ‘Green Chef’ culinary arts program.”

Central Carolina is one of the few community colleges in the state offering green building and renewable energy classes. They appeal to homeowners, entrepreneurs who want to start their own green building-related businesses, and workers seeking new skills to take into the job market. The classes range from basic construction to creating water conserving living roofs and rain gardens.

Central Carolina has the only North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP)-approved photovoltaic panel installation course at an N.C. community college. Its Chatham Campus is the only community college location in the Southeast to be a testing site for the NABCEP exam.

The college’s Laser and Photonics program, on its Lee County Campus, includes training in photovoltaics and the most efficient materials for making solar panels in its laser and photonics program. Students learn how to maintain, calibrate, and upgrade the systems.

“Our programs are on the cutting edge,” said Laura Lauffer, Green Building program coordinator. “Local green builders teach our classes. We have had students start their own green businesses.”

Among them is Paul Sacca, who with fellow students John Cummins and Eric Davis started Coooperative Energy Solutions, a renewable energy company, in Pittsboro, last year. The three still come back to the college to help them keep up-to-date on the latest information and materials in their field. During the spring semester, they are taking the Solar Hot Water Systems class that, this semester, includes installing a drain-back solar water heating system at the college’s Sustainable Agriculture program Land Lab.

“Education doesn’t get any better than this,” Sacca said. “In the class, we’re learning what works, who’s got the best system. We’re being taught by an instructor who’s a professional with 30 years in the field. We do hands-on application of what we’re learning, and, being it’s a community college, the training is very affordable compared to what other institutions would charge for this instruction.”

Workforce training for green building and renewable energy industries is getting a major boost from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in February. It appropriates almost $17 billion for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The bulk is to be used for weatherization of existing homes and buildings, research and development of renewable energy sources, and grants to state energy offices to promote energy efficiency and conservation.

“The use of renewable energy sources and environmentally friendly construction materials and techniques is critical if America is to reduce its dependence on foreign oil,” said U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, who voted for the ARRA. “Central Carolina Community College is among the leaders in responding to the burgeoning green building industry’s call for more workers with the knowledge and skills to build using these criteria.”

In 2007, Gov. Mike Easley signed a bill making North Carolina the first state in the Southeast to require electric utility companies to create part of their electricity through energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass. The state established the Green Business Fund to encourage the development and utilization of renewable energy sources.

“If we can continue to bring people into the workforce who are educated about these simple methods that pay high dividends, we can ultimately reduce our power demands,” said Joe Hackney, N.C. House Speaker. “Places like Central Carolina are helping us get started.”

Central Carolina is not only training green industry workers, but also working to make its facilities more sustainable. Three new buildings are planned: a new Siler City Center, and, at the Chatham Campus, a joint county-college library and The Center for Sustainable Technology. All will be constructed to the high LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards of the U.S. Green Building Council.

“The college is demonstrating its commitment to sustainability by the construction of new buildings that meet these standards,” said Etheridge. “This is the kind of forward-thinking decision making that is revolutionizing the building industry. Central Carolina is helping to create a better America for all of us.”

For more information about Central Carolina’s Green Building/Renewable Energy programs, contact Laura Lauffer, program coordinator, at the Chatham Campus, (919) 542-6495, ext. 228. For more information on other sustainable programs, call the Chatham Campus, (919) 542-6495 or go online to For more information on green jobs, go to the Green Collar Jobs Report website,

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Central Carolina Community College is in the forefront of training green-collar workforce
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