Friday, September 9, 2011

Women, Education, Ensuring the Future

The 35th annual dinner of the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund was a delightful affair last night. To begin with, I had the best seat in the house, between keynote speaker Elizabeth Kiss, President of Agnes Scott College, and Barbara Dixon, JRF’s first scholarship awardee.

Barbara, a widow with two daughters, decided to go back to school and become a nurse after caring for her husband in the hospital and at home, prior to his death. The Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund (then still known as the Jeannette Rankin Foundation) made it possible. Now retired, Barbara had a long, rewarding career as a nurse, was able to send her children to college (they are now nurses themselves!) and is actively supporting her family’s third generation of college students.

Elizabeth focused, needless to say, on the importance of education for women – education not only makes their lives better, but also the lives of their family members (see Barbara Dixon’s story!) and their communities. Her “homework” for the audience: call your representative in Congress and tell him/her not to let the Pell grant for low-income students disappear.

Dear to my heart, she also mentioned equality for women, which seems still so far, far away. And, of course, she mentioned the intrepid Jeannette Rankin in her speech, without whose $16,000 estate gift in 1976 thousands of women across the United States would not have had their chance at an education and a meaningful career.

One of these scholars sat at our table also, last night, and gave the dinner’s customary scholar’s speech. Patricia Garcia is now a hydrogeologist, has worked in Mexico, Nepal and West Africa, and teaches earth science at Utah Valley University. The chain continues . . ., from Barbara Dixon to Patricia Garcia, to many beyond the room we were in last night and the years across which the organization has done its commendable work, to the future. On to the next 35 years!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Green Jobs: Greener Pay

It used to be that a Georgia high school graduate could find a decent job – in retail, construction, or even banking. Those days are long gone (although just last year a well-known businessman in South Georgia was heard saying that he had done well enough for himself, thank you very much, with a high school diploma and he saw no need for his son to go to college – really!) – and even that college degree we now know everyone needs is no longer enough. Specialization is required, expertise, a niche, an area of deep knowledge, coupled with interest, curiosity, dedication and commitment.

This is particularly true in technical and scientific fields. No one becomes a robotics expert without it, NASA still needs aerospace engineers, and the renewable energy fields thirst for it. Whether it’s building and running Georgia’s next biomass plant, constructing and operating a wind farm in the North Sea, or installing India’s largest photovoltaic field, the jobs are there, talent is in demand and salaries are getting greener by the year.

According to Simply Hired, the average renewable energy job in August 2011 paid $61,000. That compares with averages of $49,000 for a loan specialist and $42,000 for a retail store manager. Salaries for environmental engineers are typically above $75,000, and way back in 2008 supply chain / logistics jobs paid $109,000 and more to professionals with a master’s degree.

According to Bernard Vanderlande, Managing Partner of Tula International, a local retained executive search and talent acquisition firm that specializes in renewable energy industries, a scarcity of experienced leaders is driving competition in the sectors, resulting in higher compensation and greater benefits.

The son of the man in South Georgia who believes a college education is not that important will no longer be able to find a job pumping gas; he may find one harvesting trees for a biomass plant at $8 to $12 an hour. His classmate who is heading for MIT, meanwhile, has his sights set on that six-figure paycheck. Greener pay for green jobs -- education makes the difference.