By Larry Cornick, MBA Candidate, Marlboro Graduate School

From the  “Education for Sustainability” session  “Readying the workforce for local resilience”  with Jill Michaels & Joan Richmond Hall from the Vermont Environmental Consortium (VEC), David Coughlin of Windham Regional Career Center and Jen Risley,  from the Hannah Grimes Center.  Moderated by Ralph Meima, program director Marlboro MBA Managing for Sustainability.

Since Wednesday hundreds of citizens, including progressive thinkers, businesspeople students, and educators had converged in Brattleboro, Vt. to attend the inaugural Slow Living Summit. Many, if not all shared the common goal of addressing and finding solutions to today’s most pressing issues: from climate change to genetically modified foods, and everything in between, and leaving no stone left unturned.

While many diverse interests were represented at the Summit, one overarching question begs to be addressed immediately, at least that was clear during the “Education for Sustainability” session: “where are the jobs? This vibrant panel discussion both sparked imagination as well as cynicism. But, in the end, whether it is Vermont or New Hampshire, Maine or New York, the challenges of preparing a workforce for the demands of a 21st Century economy crosses all boundary lines.

As someone who has lived in Vermont for the last 10 years I found the data presented by Ms. Michaels & Ms. Richmond Hall of the VEC to be most compelling.  VEC’s vision is to be the “go-to” organization for the environmental business sector in Vermont. The VEC’s mission is to promote growth and job creation in Vermont’s environmental business sector. A key component of VEC’s initiative is forging links among business, government, non-profits and higher education to grow the green economy by promoting research, education, training, and job creation.

A recent survey conduct by the VEC of 210 environmentally focused Vermont firms revealed one of the biggest challenges that the state faces: an education deficit.  In fact, more than half of firms surveyed reported that a lack of access to specialized employees limits the growth of their firm.  And, only 2% of firms report that they are extremely satisfied with their ability to recruit specialized staff.  Therefore, a need for more specialized employees for environmental sector growth in Vermont clearly exists.

One of the ways VEC intends to address the “education deficit” is by aggregating information in a portal where organizations can share their needs and find a “common cause” with other firms. The hope is to build a model where these needs are communicated not only with the firms but to the education sector as well.  For example, while 1 out 5 respondents to the survey reported that they have difficulty filling project manager position, there are colleges within the state that are offering such training, the key is getting stakeholders to form partnerships and communicate.

This is not to say all is lost, collaboration is occurring between Vermont’s educational institutions and environmental firms. There is some collaboration occurring to develop training but less than a quarter of education and training institutions reported collaborating with an environmental sector business to provide specialized training.  However, almost 80% of technical high schools have done so.  So 78% of our technical high schools have collaborated with firms to provide training versus 23% of our colleges and universities and 35% of other providers.

The data indicates there is plenty of opportunity for improvement yet we have to be mindful of other issues believes David Coughlin of Windham Regional Career Center in Brattleboro, Vermont. The Career Center is a regional career and technical school providing a diverse selection of career preparation programs for students attending Brattleboro Union High School. Mr. Coughlin worries that some of the training that’s currently offered to his students may not serve their needs for the long haul.  Traditional occupations in rural Vermont do not necessarily provide the income necessary to survive in our current economy, he noted.

There were some audience members that questioned the eventual emergence of new green jobs in the economy and when and if we will see them at all. But perhaps the most striking comment was from an engaged audience member who suggested that we should train and encourage our youth to be entrepreneurs and innovators early on,  rather than following a traditional “failed” path.