Want to work in the skilled trades? Consider an apprenticeship with a green twist.
Does Minnesota Have Official Green Apprenticeships?
Currently, there is no official list of green apprenticeships in Minnesota. However, experts say that almost all apprenticeship programs in Minnesota now include some green elements. Apprenticeships teach students to do traditional trade work more efficiently, and to use new ways to reduce the environmental impact of construction-related work.
In some trades occupations, green work does not require a whole new skill set. For example, apprentice sheet metal workers use the same skills to install a high-efficiency furnace as they would a standard furnace. Roofers use many of the same methods to install long-lasting metal roof tiles or recycled roofing as they do to install traditional asphalt shingles.
On the other hand, some construction work requires specialized green skills. For example, electrician apprentices who wish to go into solar panel installation need specialized training, as do those who wish to install or maintain wind turbines. Similarly, carpenters and most other construction-related apprentices learn LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards in their training.
How Can an Apprenticeship Prepare You for a Green Job?
Consider the following examples of green skills learned during apprenticeships.
- Sheet metal worker apprentices learn to design ductwork systems for energy efficiency, with smooth fittings that move the air easily, and elbows or turns that offer the least possible air resistance. They learn about temperature and pressure in air distribution systems, gas heating, and air conditioning. They use equipment to measure duct leakage, and test and balance air systems to maximize efficiency. Because sealants and caulks are common in this profession, apprentices are now learning to use those with low VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which require more training and skill development to use than traditional, more toxic products.
- Electrician apprentices may get training in solar panel installation and maintenance at facilities with solar labs. Those who work on wind turbines learn other specialized skills, including working comfortably at a high altitude, and moving up and down the turbine tower carrying a heavy weight (such as the weight of another worker, in emergency situations).
- Pipefitter apprentices are trained to sort scrap material into different dumpsters at the worksite so that more material is saved and recycled. Pipefitters also use formulas to calculate heat loss and gain for a building space to configure appropriate temperature control and energy use. The training involves examples such as figuring air exchange needed for a movie theater compared to an office environment, and calculating their respective peak energy use.
- Plumber apprentices are trained to work with tankless water heaters, low-flow toilets, and rainwater re-use systems.
- Floor coverer apprentices are learning about green flooring, LEED overviews for flooring, dust containment, and recycling of materials.
- Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) installer apprentices have been retrofitting temperature control systems since the late 1970s.
What Specific Green Credentials Can Apprentices Earn?
An apprenticeship is a good way to learn the skills you might need in a green construction-related job, but an industry-recognized certification is a credential that demonstrates to prospective employers that you have learned these skills. There are several green-related certifications that are commonly recognized in building-related energy efficiency occupations.
Some of the most well-known certifying organizations include:
- North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) — certifies solar photovoltaic panel installers
- U.S. Green Building Council — offers several options for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory — certifies wind turbine technicians