Published Nov. 2013
By Veronica Sandate Craker
A half-day seminar looking at the future workforce needs in the clean energy industry was held at Columbia Basin College Oct. 17.
About three dozen people attended the Future Workforce Needs in Clean Energy Conference sponsored by the Port of Benton, Tri-Cities Research District and Columbia Basin College on Oct. 17.
Leaders in the industry and education of clean energy presented at the half-day seminar.
“Traditionally they’ve done a clean energy day over in Olympia with legislators, but there’s also a strong desire to do something locally, so we can make sure our local community knows about the kind of projects we have going on,” said Clayton Gibson, director of the CBC nuclear technology program.
Topics of discussion included Mid-Columbia Energy Initiative’s small modular reactor work, Pacific Northwest National Laboratories’ smart grid efforts and Washington State University Tri-Cities’ biofuels research.
“The availability and the need for clean energy is probably the single most ingredient that can help the world population as we move forward in the future,” said Mike Lawrence, with the Mid-Columbia Energy Initiative.
Lawrence said it’s important to seek out ways to produce abundant and affordable clean energy.
“The fact of the matter is that not only do people need to have access to (clean energy), but also they have to be able to afford to use it or it’s not going to work,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence said climate change caused by the excessive production and release of carbon monoxide, which is changing the weather, and, in turn, will change the way we will live in the future.
Speakers also discussed the need to create a sustaining energy workforce.
“I think the skill sets that the future employees are going to need are advancing so quickly that from an educator standpoint there’s a real premium on making sure you understand what an industry is going to need so you can match those skillsets,” Gibson said. “If you don’t foster those skill sets, we’re not going to have the workforce that could benefit the Tri-Cities region.”
A roundtable discussion took place after the presentations allowng members of the audience to ask presenters about the work being done to fill the future job openings in the energy industry.
Deidre Holmberg, with the Pasco School District joined the panel of speakers to talk about the areas plans for three STEM Elementary Schools slated to open in the 2014-2015 school year.
“One of the reasons I switched from secondary my entire life … is I really want to provide at my schools and certainly across the Mid-Columbia is those engineering and critical thinking activities where students can really get their interest sparked and fully understand the necessity of learning skills that go into these disciplines,” Holmberg said.
Diahann Howard, of the Port of Benton and the Tri-Cities’ Research District, said there is a dire need to create a trained workforce to serve the clean energy field as it grows.
“We knew there was a need, but I guess we didn’t realize how much of a future need there is for journeymen and electrical technicians,” Howard said. “We want a research district trying to be a collaboration partner and create the opportunity for education, workforce and legislative and the community to be stronger. That’s part of our goal and our mission is to be that facilitator and collaborator.
The seminar speakers also included Peter Christensen, technology commercialization manager at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Keith Thomsen, assistant director of the Washington State University Tri-Cities’ Bioproducts, Sciences & Engineering Laboratory; James Conca, of Center for Laboratory Sciences and Barbara Hins-Turner, of the Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy.
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