Cross Training

Workers Adopting Sustainable Skills

By Matt L. Ottinger

Wind turbines dotting countrysides like salt rocks on an Indiana corn cob. Solar panels lining roofs like snickerdoodles on baking sheets. Biofuel processing plants that would make Willie Wonka shriek with delight. Amidst the green revolution, these are all sights that have either served as food for thought or have come to fruition in the state.

But as these beacons of sustainability materialize, key questions remain: Who will build them? And how will those people be trained?


Southwest Indiana, which contains the state’s third largest city (Evansville), finds itself in a predicament not unlike many other regions of the country. An abundance of resources and labor, but many workers with outdated skill sets more reminiscent of the industries that were thriving in prior decades than today.

The Grow Southwest Indiana Regional Workforce Board enlisted the assistance of Texas- based consultant Greyhill Advisors to examine the nine-country region as part of its new initiative, Project GREEN. Funded by part of a $5 million Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) grant, Greyhill’s study showed a great deal of potential for the region when it came to adapting to a new generation of manufacturing.

“We wanted to understand each of the nine counties,” explains Ben Loftsgaarden, principal at Greyhill Advisors. “They realize they have a strong base in traditional energy and manufacturing.”

Loftsgaarden explains energy in the region is already quite diverse, including coal, oil, gas, biomass and even nuclear – the Babcock & Wilcox Company in Mount Vernon is one of the country’s leading nuclear power generators.

Christine Prior, planning manager for Grow Southwest Indiana Workforce, explains the key to the area is training laborers – as well as businesses – to adapt.

“There are companies that have made a certain type of product for years, but may want to consider transitioning with training instead of closing their doors,” she offers.

Prior relays the story of one Jasper company that made furniture for years, but has branched out into electronics. She contends that such a company could be well-suited to work on electric cars in the future. She adds that while moving into the green sector and improving efficiency are critical, the region will need to find an optimal way to keep producing coal; the state’s primary energy source will not be going away any time soon.

“Indiana is 96% coal,” Prior contends. “If we turned off our coal generators, our state would cease to exist. Coal is dirty, but poverty is a lot dirtier.”

“We find a lot of other regions have rushed into green technology, but don’t know what it is or what skills are required,” Loftsgaarden asserts. “But you need to understand energy and the different sectors; wind is much different than solar.”

He adds that when considering what training is required, it’s best to reach out to manufacturers and human resources managers and ask what specific positions need to be filled, and which are most difficult to fill.

“That helps when crafting curriculum,” he explains. “Breaking it down into those bite-sized pieces makes it much easier.”

Skills for today and tomorrow

As is often the case, education will prove critical in the future of sustainability efforts. Purdue University’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP), which began in 1986, strives to be out in front of the green wave, preparing the workforce for these changes.

Also funded by a WIRED grant, Purdue’s efforts began by actually determining what it meant to be green.

“The (green) program was launched by a couple of professors who looked at different types of training,” says Ethan Rogers, manager of energy efficiency services for TAP. “They started by really defining green; before that, it was usually used with air quotes around it.”

Rogers notes that the training program coalesces with manufacturers, so participants include workers and students, as well as the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and other government agencies.

“We also consider all the industrial agencies we engage to be partners,” he adds. “We’ve worked with hundreds of companies in the state as well as utility companies. We’ll do workshops on site and have even done energy audits for them.”

Rogers relays that the training includes a multitude of curricula, including enhancing workers’ knowledge of energy efficiency, lighting systems, boilers, analyzing financial returns, root cause analysis and soft skills.

When asked if there are other similar programs in the country, Rogers contends, “There are some that are a little bit like it, but ours is very comprehensive.”

Purdue’s TAP also offers Green Generalist Training online via Oxygen Education, which includes a library of content modules for technical education and workforce development. The online offering also includes a case study simulation so students can analyze business processes.

Electric slide into the future

The Electrical Training Institute recently launched the Indianapolis Electrical Apprenticeship program to train Central Indiana workers for the future, focusing on installations of solar panels and wind turbines. The first class, which graduated in March, included 14 technicians and the ceremony was attended by Rep. Andre Carson, among others.

Administered as a joint partnership between the National Electrical Contractors Association of Central Indiana and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local #481, the program strives to produce “green technicians.” And there are plenty of opportunities. A press release for the program explains Indiana has 1,200 clean energy companies, employing more than 17,000 Hoosiers.

“We think with the (American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009) money coming out, building automation will be creating a lot of jobs,” offers Jim Patterson, director for the Electrical Training Institute. “We want journeymen and apprentices to be involved in that.”

As an example, Patterson relays that the Indianapolis City- County Council has plans to “green” its meeting facility, which would include changing to a new type of lights in the building – the very type of project his graduates will be prepared for. “Or if we have a windmill farm come into the area, we want to be trained to do that,” he says. “Any upgrade in training will help their employability.”

He expects two or three more classes to graduate from the program by the end of summer. “It will be ongoing,” Patterson says. “It’s very popular with our membership, and there’s quite a waiting list.”

Constructing green

The Associated Builders & Contractors of Indiana (ABC) is also helping to train its members in the ways of a greener world. After launching a Green Building Committee in 2008, the trade association has added many eco-friendly training courses to its arsenal.

“We started the committee shortly before (Gov. Mitch Daniels’) executive order that all public buildings be LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) silver certified,” explains Martha Pilkinton, vice president of business development. “Now, green buildings are a phenomenon and, despite the recession, have been trucking along.”

She adds that the trainings are a practical way to help ABC members find work and to help the industry conduct itself in a responsible way.

“Even if you’re not a tree hugger, you should care about emissions and electricity usage,” Pilkinton contends. “There’s a report out (from the U.S. Green Building Council) that says buildings account for 38% of all carbon dioxide emissions.”

She adds that number is expected to grow by 1.8% a year over the next 25 years.

Pilkinton notes that training seminar topics originally included: separating fact from fiction on LEED certification, legal aspects of LEED building and an accreditation exam.

“We offered those things, but we weren’t getting to the field guys,” she clarifies, adding ABC now makes available a 15-hour green worker program focused on the importance of recycling and documentation.

She explains over 500 trainees have been through ABC’s programs and the curriculum is still expanding. Pilkinton says topics now include sustainability in carpentry; heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC); and electrical contracting.

“We’re also working with flooring contractors and painters,” she states. “They both need to be aware of the importance of low (volatile organic compounds).” Stimulus funds have helped spur the market, according to Pilkinton. She adds that ABC has been aided in its efforts by Green Ideas – an environmental building consultant in Arizona, the U.S. Green Building Council Indiana chapter and local resources, companies and talent. Above all, Pilkinton believes this holistic approach to green training will help those in the field work better together. “All these different trades have to interact together on a job site,” she contends. “And we even want to reach people who go prep the sites as well.”

Training provides light for brighter future

vPrior concludes by stating that although recent struggles in the American – and global – economies have been detrimental to the business community, they’ve provided a valuable opportunity for leaders in all sectors to address their business models.

“We’re going through tough times right now, but if we’re going to emerge from this stronger –to change what we’ve done in the past – training and education are really the only ways we’re going to do that,” she says.


Resources: Ben Loftsgaarden, Greyhill Advisors, at Jim Patterson, Electrical Training Institute, at Martha Pilkinton, Associated Builders & Contractors of Indiana, at Christine Prior, Grow Southwest Indiana Workforce, at Ethan Rogers, Purdue University, at

BizVoice/Indiana Chamber - July/August 2010. Original text available at