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ATX Green Living 2012
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Women wanted: ACC programming aims to steer women into green energy jobs

Austin Photo Author: Melissa_Gaskill
Austin Photo Set: News_Katherine_women in green jobs_april 2012_fixing solar panel
"Suzanne earned has over 10 years experience in the semiconductor and computer industries. Mixing in her new knowledge with renewable energy courses in solar from Austin Community College District (ACC), she is now an "Independent Solar Contractor" and a NABCEP "Professional" solar instructor for ACC." Courtesy of ACC

A half dozen attentive young women scattered around the large conference room in Building 8 of Austin Community College’s Eastview Campus clearly illustrate the speaker’s point: few women are taking advantage of growth in the green energy sector.

ACC hopes to change that, presenting a session on opportunities for women in clean energy as part of its Environmental Awareness Month. The event’s  sponsors include ACC’s Renewable Energy Student Association and Center for Student Political Studies.

Shelley Attix, coordinator of Continuing Education workforce special projects, says ACC wants to double the percentage of women preparing for green energy careers. Green jobs cut across a variety of career tracks, from manufacturing, where development of better batteries is needed, to IT work on smart grids, green construction, mass transit and natural resources.

 Most green jobs are new twists on jobs that already exist, many of them trades.

Female role models are an important part of the effort; Attix points out that recruiting a female instructor for an introductory solar energy class increased female enrollment from almost nil to 75 percent, with 90 percent completing the course.

Most green jobs are new twists on jobs that already exist, many of them trades. For example, plumbers may now work on solar thermal, or mill workers on wind turbines. And while many people think ‘renewable energy’ when they hear ‘green jobs,’ a study by the American Solar Energy Society estimated that there are nearly 20 times more jobs in energy efficiency than there are in renewable energy. These energy efficiency jobs are within traditional occupations such as construction, HVAC, electricians, engineers and plumbers.  

“Many green jobs have focused mainly around building the infrastructure and energy generation equipment required to make the transition to clean energy,” says Jason Shaw, president of the ACC Renewable Energy Student Association. “Men make up the majority of the workforce in this field and this event was to bring in and show support for women who have successful careers in the energy field, and to help encourage more diversity in the clean energy workforce.”

Speakers at the ACC event included Kelly Twomey, a mechanical engineering student in the University of Texas Cockrell School of Engineering and graduate student researcher with Webber Energy Group/ATI and Carsi Mitzner with the Association of Women in Energy.

Attix encourages women interested in pursuing a green energy career to develop computer skills, whether general IT, web design or auto cad. “If you don’t want to be on a roof somewhere, that’s a great way to go,” she says. Business skills and an entrepreneurial bent are helpful. On the residential side, for example, women often make decisions about green home construction or remodeling, and may feel more comfortable dealing with another woman.

 Attix encourages women interested in pursuing a green energy career to develop computer skills, whether general IT, web design or auto cad.

Mick Normington, a business specialist at the Texas Workforce Commission, says that at least an associate degree is essential, for men and women.

“In 2011, 80 percent of the unemployed in Texas didn’t have at least an associate degree, while 47 percent of the job postings required it.” He stresses that what an individual studies matters now more than ever. “The more math you take, the more money you make. Technical skills equal money.”

ACC offers continuing education certificates in solar thermal and electric systems, solar photovoltaic installation, weatherization technology and wind power delivery systems. The college also offers a renewable energy certificate in electronics, an environmental technology certificate, and GIS certificates. Two-year associates of applied science degrees are offered in renewable energy, environmental science and environmental technology. Special topic courses include a construction technology class in green building and a business management class in sustainable and green business.

ACC students can also transfer up to 66 credit hours of ACC classes toward a 123-hour  Bachelor of Arts and Applied Sciences in Sustainable Building from Stephen F. Austin State University.

Let’s hope all of this effort results in a bigger crowd the next time there’s a talk about women in green energy.

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