New U.S. Institutes to Tackle Cleantech Workforce Shortage


"Now cleantech industry can get pre-trained employees."

SolvClimate, Maria Gallucci

A surge in business for algae-biofuels developer Sapphire Energy has led to a new but welcome problem: The firm needs to hire experienced workers but is finding slim pickings.

The San Diego green crude producer typically hires from within the biomedical field. Employees are paid full-time while they train for work in the developer's labs or at its research and development facility and biorefinery in New Mexico.

But Stephen Mayfield, Sapphire Energy co-founder and director of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, has a more efficient method in mind.

The algae expert is helping to lead a new post-graduate training program that is building a ready workforce ahead of an anticipated boom in biotechnology development.

Around 100 students are expected to enroll this year in EDGE (Educating and Developing Workers for the Green Economy), a public-private partnership that offers industrial and technical certificate programs in biofuels and biotech production, analysis and processing. For now, the initiative does not include ethanol.

A Masters of Advanced Science will be offered next year through the University of California, San Diego for biotech entrepreneurs.

"The EDGE initiative is really a new paradigm for how academic institutions interact with commercial partners so that we're actually teaching our students skills that they can take out and use to get a job," Mayfield told SolveClimate News.

For businesses, he continued: "It is a cost-saving efficiency move. Now you get employees that come pre-trained."

The initiative is in step with similar efforts nationwide seeking to steer students and second-career professionals into clean energy industries such as wind, solar and geothermal that still lack the manpower to match growing opportunities.

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