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Voice of an Innovator: Equipping Students for 21st Century Jobs

The President of Central Pennsylvania's Community College highlights the school's innovative efforts to prepare students for the 21st century clean energy economy.

Editor's note: This blog introduces readers to John J. Sygielski, President of Harrisburg Area Community College in Central Pennsylvania. Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley met with students and educators at the college's green jobs training facility. 

At Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC), Central Pennsylvania's Community College, we have a long tradition of understanding the educational and training needs of our local industries. We also understand that preparing our students to meet these needs can dramatically increase their chances of securing good jobs when they leave our program.

HACC Roundtable

From left, Cindy Reiner, HACC Dean of Workforce Training; HACC President John J. Sygielski; and CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley. The three engage in a roundtable discussion on initiatives that are helping to lead students to the 21st century clean energy economy.

President Obama's American Jobs Act would invest $5 billion in modernizing community colleges across the country. In addition to making sure colleges are equipped to prepare our students for 21st century job opportunities, modernizing schools will create jobs in the very industries we are training our students for – jobs assessing the energy use of old buildings, and installing green technologies that save schools energy and money.

Pennsylvania has a number of old industrial sites that need to be reclaimed, restored and put back into alternative use. That's why we offer a brownfields program that trains the technicians who can inspect and remediate the old factory sites and return them to useful life. And because of the growing demand for renewable energy and energy efficiency equipment and services, our college offers training programs in green technologies like photovoltaic technology and geothermal heating and cooling systems; technician training in wind power; and certificate programs for building analysts and energy auditors. In a key example of how these programs meet real-world gaps in the workforce, one of our photovoltaic technology professors uses the training program to recruit employees for his own solar manufacturing company.

In the end, we embrace green technologies because they are good for our students, for our communities and for our environment. We see great promise for future growth in these industries, and we know that our students will be prepared to take advantage of these new opportunities.

John J. “Ski” Sygielski, EdD is President of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, and Immediate Past President of the American Association of Community Colleges