Clean Energy Training “National Model” Blows Past Year 1 Goals, Expands at A&T

By Todd Simmons / 09/06/2023 Research and Economic Development, College of Engineering

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Sept. 6, 2023) – One year ago, the U.S. Department of Commerce awarded a $23.7 million grant to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in support of a clean energy training program that U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo then described as “a national model” for preparing new workers for clean energy jobs across the state.

Twelve months later, the program’s outcomes are more than living up to its high-profile promise.

STEPs4GROWTH (S4G) marked its first anniversary with an announcement that the program has graduated 113 students, significantly exceeding its first-year goal of 100. The program’s industry partners now number 45 and include such leading firms as Duke Energy and Siemens. Between them, those partners committed to providing 140 jobs, of which 105 have been filled thus far with program graduates.

It is now squarely on track to reach its second-year goals of 400 graduates and more than 200 industry partners and is expanding to produce 1,000 good job placements in clean energy by year 3.

“So far, STEPs4GROWTH has touched the lives of 250 student trainees. That represents an amazing start for a new program, and portends incredibly well for STEPs4GROWTH in the years ahead,” said Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr.

S4G has become such an early success story that officials in the U.S. Departments of Labor, Transportation and Energy have discussed the possibilities of similar programs in dialogue with S4G leaders.

“STEPs4GROWTH prepares students for a wide range of clean energy careers in solar power, electric vehicle technology and more. Once they complete the program, each graduate is hired by one of our industry partners,” said Balakrishna Gokaraju, Ph.D., principal investigator of S4G and an associate professor of computational data science and engineering (CDSE) at A&T. “We’re not only educating ready-for-hire workers, but helping companies fill the fast-growing number of clean energy jobs. In so doing, we’re speeding North Carolina’s transition to sustainable, clean energy sources. It’s a win-win-win.”

Duke Energy alone has already hired 36 graduates, and Siemens and Blue Ridge Power each got 10 new employees. Starting wages and benefits are highly competitive, and career trajectory for all the program’s graduates is exceptional.

Industry partners further benefit through tax incentives worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. For federal and state officials working with the program, enthusiasm is high.

STEPs4GROWTH’s visibility and A&T’s growing success as a proven partner in developing training initiatives that attract outstanding, diverse participants has helped attract other partners, as well. For instance, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality has devoted about $2 million to workforce development tuition support at A&T and to educate K-12 students and their families about opportunities in the clean-energy sector.

The university is also investing in new training technology that will help it serve more students. Included in that is metaverse digital twin technology and development of virtual reality “hands-on” training modules.

“This grant’s focus in energy and sustainability is at the core of what we know STEM research needs to pursue to advance society,” said Stephanie Luster-Teasley, Ph.D., interim dean of the College of Engineering. “From education to engagement of K-12 students, community colleges, universities, corporations and the general community, expanding clean energy awareness, training and adding jobs in energy is key. We fundamentally are training people who will have a direct impact on how we live, which is why this work is so important.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning of North Carolina, whose district includes A&T’s campus, was on hand for Wednesday’s event. She said she was proud to have endorsed S4G’s receipt of the U.S. Department of Commerce funding a year ago and never doubted it would be successful.

“North Carolina A&T is one of the jewels in the crown that is our community,” she said. “I want to thank our young people for reminding us how important clean energy is to our future.

“This program is extraordinary.”

Media Contact Information: thsimmons@ncat.edu

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