Sometimes it feels like we waste so much time debating climate change, we lose sight of some basic realities. Renewable energy isn’t going anywhere. Regardless of one’s view on climate, clean energy and clean manufacturing are not only better for our planet – they provide numerous economic opportunities for both our young people and our communities.

The question is – are we helping our students to have the skills and dispositions needed to fill this exponentially growing demand? Running parallel to the important conversations about environmental justice, we must also spotlight and demonstrate the link to economic transformation. Schools have the power, and the responsibility, to play a pivotal role in laying this foundation.

Studies tell us young people care about the climate, but they don’t necessarily know how to get involved or how they can make an impact. The transition to a greener economy will impact virtually every career as industries evolve. Schools should not only expose students to basic green skills, they should also highlight the various pathways students might take to employ these skills in the workplace and grow their capacity to have a tremendous impact on their communities and the world.

Perhaps it might be time to revisit some of our more neglected modes of learning – the industrial arts. For decades, we have moved away from trade and vocational courses, like shop class, but it hasn’t necessarily served our students well. Stigmas associated with blue collar careers, and bias towards college-ready have caused a drop in courses that give students hands-on skills. Perhaps exposure to clean energy, through applied, elective courses or CTE (career and technical education) could encourage students to gain an interest in this field and visualize a pathway as to how they might do their part professionally to facilitate this transition. (A map of over 40 careers in solar alone)

Schools are uniquely positioned to facilitate education to employment opportunities based on the needs of their communities. Investments to refurbish old factories into clean manufacturing might provide a different set of opportunities than a community-based in the Sun Belt investing in solar. Schools have the capacity to engage in or facilitate the sorts of community partnerships that will help students to pave their way in this new economy.

Read the full article about the future of work for students by Michelle Blanchet and Mason Pashia at Getting Smart.