Energy Workshop Provides Educators & Industry Perspective on Retooling Future Workforce

As the energy debate heats up and quest for alternative energy sources are on the rise, a key question on everybody’s mind is a growing need for skilled workers. As is the case with any technology, education and training are keys to successfully using and integrating emerging technologies as part of everyday industrial operations. Renewable and alternative energy development, although, not a brand new concept, is one such area where there is vast need not only for skilled workers, but also qualified educators.

Given this rising demand, FLATE, the National Science Foundation Center of Excellence at Hillsborough Community College (HCC) in Brandon, partnered with Florida Energy Systems Consortium (FESC) to offer an energy-based workshop for community college educators and incumbent industry professionals. The workshop was held at the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) in Cocoa, FL, and offered a platform for educators and industry from across Florida to work together, share current and future workforce needs, and generate ideas on developing curriculum to meet industry needs. Attendees also toured FSEC’s state-of-the-art facility, lauded as “"the world's most energy efficient building" replete with solar panels, solar water heaters and a solar panel testing laboratory.

The workshop presentations were highly informational. Industry experts and educators from across Florida discussed various energy related topics that educators could use and integrate as part of their everyday curriculum. Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE and Dr. Tim Anderson, director of the Florida Energy System Consortium at the University of Florida talked about current, energy related projects, strategic research thrusts, and ongoing education and outreach initiatives throughout the state. Similarly Jay Matteson from Palm Beach College and Rob Raesemann from Raesemann Enterprises updated attendees with information on opportunities for SmartGrid workforce education training. Kathryn Frederick from the Florida Department of Education gave an in-depth overview of energy-related programs at middle & high schools in the region, academic alignment/integration, as well as available industry certifications. Other presenters included the EST2 project team who reported on their curriculum development efforts; while Bruce Hesher and Adrienne Gould-Choquette, from Brevard Community College (BCC) and State College of Florida, provided attendees with key energy-related updates.

Given the importance of “connecting content with real-world applications” attendees also got an opportunity to engage in a hands-on professional development activity. During this activity attendees got a first hand-look at the physical and electrical aspects of different PV arrays working with FSEC panel modules. Working in teams, attendees took measurements using voltmeters, ammeters, handheld IR thermometers and irradiance meters.

The purpose of the activity and the entire workshop was two-fold says Nina Stokes, project manager for the FLATE-led FESC effort at HCC-Brandon. For teachers, the workshop provided an opportunity “to engage in hands-on exercises that they could take back to their classroom.” It also connected them with industry experts who “provided expert content knowledge to help tailor curriculum to fit industry needs.” For industry professionals, the workshop served as a platform to gauge ongoing training and educational efforts, and provide perspective in formulating strategies to help educators tailor curriculum to mirror required skills/knowledge in current/future employees.

According to a post survey conducted by FLATE, participants overwhelmingly agreed the meeting was worthwhile, and that they would recommend others coming to future events. “They also enjoyed the breadth of information, particularly networking with colleagues about school implementation of energy curricula” Barger said. For more information on the workshop contact Nina Stokes at stokes@fl-ate.org. For information on the FLATE-created two year A.S. degree in engineering technology with specialization in alternative energy systems technology currently offered at BCC, contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org, or visit http://fl-ate.org/projects/fesc.html and www.madeinflorida.org/engineering-technology-degree. For information on current statewide energy related projects visit www.floridaenergy.ufl.edu.