Well over a decade ago, SUNY Ulster began to build training programs for installers of solar, geothermal, and wind technologies as well as green building methods. We saw exciting new career pathways for our students. However, when we rolled out these programs, there were very few traditional college students. Instead, they were seasoned building and trades professionals including contractors and electricians, architects and engineers, and even real estate agents. They weren’t taking the classes to get a green job, they were evolving existing jobs to make them greener and building the movement.
At the same time, industry organizations were just starting to develop standards of best practice for clean energy system installation and energy efficient building. The SUNY Community Colleges have been working with professional instructors and with national industry groups to create curriculum that meets these standards. Training programs fall into three categories: green building design, green building construction, and green building maintenance.
Today, we have courses and programs addressing the three main categories of green building careers—design, construction, and maintenance—SUNY Ulster focuses primarily on construction and maintenance. This includes the installation of clean energy systems, like photovoltaic panels, geothermal systems, and energy efficient building practices. Students can earn multiple certifications from industry groups such as the Building Performance Institute and the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners—credentials that are recognized nationally and in some foreign countries. Programs in this area include Energy Auditor, Heating and Heat Pump Professionals, and Building Automation. These certifications prepare the green building professional to assess the energy system upgrades and renovations for older buildings—useful, since the Hudson Valley has some of the oldest housing stock in the country.
Many of the courses offered at SUNY Ulster offer credits toward an Associate Degree in Green Building. Our students are trained in a state-of-the-art building science lab and test house, the Kelder Center, where they can work on the integrated solar photovoltaic and solar thermal panels, perform field tests on heating and cooling systems, and study the effects of various insulation materials. Instructors can even open leaks in the structure for students to find as part of their energy auditor exam.
These days, the young people are on board, too. Last year, the Ulster County Executive and the Ulster Career Center partnered with SUNY Ulster to create the Green Careers Academy, a career pathway training program that starts with basic courses to prepare students for technical training. Grants and donations even provide scholarships. Local companies—especially those with employees who have taken our classes—have accepted interns and hired students. In a new program with Citizens for Local Power, Kingston apprentices actually start with a paid work experience to gain hands-on knowledge before they ever take a class.
The science of green building continues to evolve with new methods and materials and higher standards. It is an exciting time to be a practitioner.
Christopher Marx is associate vice president for Workforce, Economic Development, and Community Partnerships at SUNY Ulster.