EdCC sees students shift to green education

LYNNWOOD — Green is in at Edmonds Community College, and not only because there’s an abundance of trees and plants.

The sagging economy has led many people to seek new careers. Technical jobs with an environmental emphasis increasingly top the list for those in career transition, officials say.

“The last two to three months I’ve been seeing people coming in saying, ‘I want to do something in green technology,’ ” said Gina Certain, the college’s worker retraining coordinator. “They don’t know what it means, but they say they’re interested in it because they’ve read it in the paper.”

To meet that burgeoning demand, the college has expanded the number of vocational education certification and degree programs with green as a theme.

Horticulture instructor Tim Hohn has seen the spike in interest first hand.

He teaches one of the classes required for the recently added restoration horticulture degree program, which prepares students for careers making urban and suburban areas more eco-friendly and restoring damaged wetlands and watersheds.

“The importance of it is only going to grow as we begin to recognize how much restoration work is required,” he said. “I’m thinking it might become a very big part of our overall program, which traditionally has been focused on ornamental horticulture.”

A recent study by the state’s Employment Security Department identified 47,000 green jobs in Washington. They include computer software engineers, green building architects and weatherization technicians.

Statewide, enrollment in worker retraining in 2009 was 77 percent higher than in 2008, according to the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. Edmonds Community College saw enrollment in retraining programs increase 16 percent in 2009 compared to 2008.

In July, Gov. Chris Gregoire urged a U.S. Senate subcommittee to pass climate change legislation and spur green-job growth.

“That’s kind of a consciousness that all employers are looking for now,” said college spokeswoman Michelle Graves. Green-inspired courses now span virtually all departments as the college since 2004 has made sustainability a big part of its educational mission, she said.

Randy Sibley, who heads the college’s construction industry training program, agrees.

“It seems to me just in the last couple of years, clients are saying, ‘We want our project to be green,’ ” he said.

Sibley helped develop the college’s newest degree program in energy management. That program certifies students to work as specialists who know how to determine a house’s or business’s energy efficiency.

He’s also overseen students as they build a tiny house two miles from the college using environmentally friendly guidelines.

Interest in retraining programs has also been a challenge for the college. Certain said in September, the college ran out of state funds that help unemployed people pay for tuition and books.

“I probably have 150 people on a waiting list for money to help pay for school,” she said. “It’s been tough because we have a lot of people looking for retraining.”

Oscar Halpert: 425-339-3429, ohalpert@heraldnet.com.

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