N.C. A&T receives $23.7 million grant for clean energy training program

N.C. A&T has received a $23.7 million federal grant to create a clean energy workforce training program.

Gov. Roy Cooper was on campus in Greensboro Wednesday with U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo, Greensboro mayor Nancy Vaughan and others to announce the grant, from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.  The money, part of the American Rescue Plan good Jobs Challenge grant program, will go toward A&T’s new STEPs4GROWTH program, which will provide clean energy workforce training.

The university plans to have the program off the ground by 2026 and to place several thousand workers in the clean energy sector over five years.

Gov. Roy Cooper was on hand for the grant announcement at N.C. A&T Wednesday.

“You’ve heard a lot about the clean energy jobs coming to North Carolina by the thousands,” Cooper said Wednesday. “You know what keeps me up at night? Who’s going to fill those jobs.”

Cooper said the A&T program will be essential for the clean energy economy that is “important for our planet and our pocket books.”

“We are on the cutting edge of the clean energy economy,” Cooper said. “It is an intentional thing. And developing this talented, diverse workforce is going to be critical to the success.”

Cooper touted bipartisan state legislation requiring the power sector to reduce carbon emissions 70 percent by 2030 and to get to carbon zero by 2050. The state is pushing offshore wind power and attracting companies that make clean cars, planes and boats. That’s going to mean new skills are needed to build those things,

North Carolina’s universities and community colleges are the ideal place for these clean energy youth apprenticeship programs, Cooper, said – particularly the state’s thriving historically black college and universities (HBCUs).

“People are coming here because they know we value diversity,” Cooper said. “We also value education.”

Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said the new program is a good example of how learning is economic development.

“When we have an employer look at Greensboro, Guilford County, all of our other counties, they want to make sure that we have the talent pipeline,” Vaughan said. “And through this grant, we are going to be able to make sure that we can supply the workforce of the future. And that is so important, especially when it comes to things like eradicating poverty. That is something that as an elected official I know is on the forefront of our minds. What can we do to give the people in Greensboro a better way to live? And the way to that is through these great jobs.”

N.C. A&T Provost Tonya Smith-Jackson said A&T’s team was successful in winning the grant though their commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.

Those are foundational strengths of HBCUs, Smith-Jackson said, of which A&T is the nation’s largest. Part of that is not being afraid to embrace the future and to act with respect for and an emphasis on diverse communities, she said.

N.C. A&T Provost Tonya Smith-Jackson said the new program is about economic development in more ways than one.

“We have faculty who embrace culturally responsive practices and frameworks and use those lenses unapologetically to shape the work they do to advance the human condition,” Smith-Jackson said.

A&T’s use of social justice perspectives and embracing of clean energy will benefit to the entire state, Smith-Jackson said – especially in the most distressed parts of the state where it can have the greatest impact.

“This is about economic development in more ways than one.,” Smith-Jackson said. “Workforce and upscaling, access to jobs, equitable access to education and training. But also the right to live in ecosystems with clean air, clean water, clean soil.”

There are 113,000 job opportunities in the clean energy in North Carolina, said Dr. Balakrishna Gokaraju, a professor in A&T’s department of engineering, at Wednesday’s announcement event. Of those, 65,000 are available in rural counties, he said.

The program will expand to 17 of those counties, he said.

“With this large investment from the U.S. Department of Commerce the N.C. A&T will be the epicenter for clean energy tech and solutions,” Gokaraju said. “STEPs4Growth will provide 3,000 good job placements in four years and 1,500 every year thereafter.”

The jobs will be in areas such as solar panel installations, energy efficient HVACs and the cyber-security sector, Gokaraju said.

U.S. Rep Kathy Manning was on hand at the event in the form a recorded video message.

“North Carolina’s economy is booming,” Manning said in a statement. “Thanks to investments from the American Rescue Plan, North Carolina’s economy persevered through the initial impacts of the pandemic and came out stronger than ever. Today, major businesses are flocking to our community and citing our incredible institutions of higher education like A&T as a reason to bring their work to the Triad.”

“With our booming economy and the growing number of clean energy jobs coming to North Carolina, it’s critical that we prepare our workforce for those good jobs,” Manning said.

U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, herself an A&T alumna, didn’t miss the chance to declare her Aggie pride at Wednesday’s event, praising the university’s work and calling it a key ally to the administration of President Joe Biden in its goal to reach historically underserved areas and populations.

“As the founder and co-chair of the congressional bi-partisan HBCU caucus I know the power of partnerships with our historically black colleges and universities,” Adams said. “Few institutions are so critical, so central to their communities and to their alumni. So HBCUs are a perfect place to build lasting relationships to unlock opportunity.”

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N.C. A&T receives $23.7 million grant for clean energy training program