Sustainability partners

gabriella patti

The City of Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Community Sustainability Partnership were recently recognized at the United Nations University 2014 Global RCE Conference in Okayama, Japan.

Grand Valley State University helped found the CSP. Norman Christopher, director of the Office of Sustainability Practices at GVSU, gave a presentation at the conference, joining representatives from 77 countries and over 129 Regional Centres of Expertise (RCEs).

“The focus of a RCE is on education for sustainable development,” Christopher said.

Christopher gave a lecture at the conference focusing on the sustainability skill set that students should have in order to be more employable.

Christopher worked with Elena Lioubimtseva, chair of the geography and planning department at GVSU, to survey 70 Grand Rapids and West Michigan-based companies to examine the major areas students have to master in order to get a job. He presented the findings at the conference.

Christopher said skill sets go through five levels: personal, knowledge, basic, technical, application and leadership. At the university level, GVSU is offering more programs, certificates, classes and degrees that will give students the skill set they need, Christopher said.

“It is a growing number, probably about 10 percent of all student credit hours are in courses, curriculum, majors, minors, certificates about sustainability,” Christopher said. “It is a growing interest for students at Grand Valley.”

Erik Nordman is a professor at GVSU who teaches natural resource policy, a sustainability issues course.

“We are teaching skills in analysis, integration and collaboration,” Nordman said. “Those are really essential workplace skills for people choosing careers in sustainability. We are integrating knowledge from across disciplines.”

Sustainability jobs are an important part of the job market: a government report showed that there were about 3 million sustainability jobs. The ones reported on were primarily in the areas of environment and social areas that were not heavily portrayed in the media.

There is a huge capacity of public, private and academic sectors in West Michigan that support and implement sustainability practices, Christopher said.

Christopher’s goal is to help students gain the skills they need to get job opportunities within West Michigan. He said local companies such as Steelcase, Herman Miller and Hayworth have all been built on sustainability.

“Firms are looking for employees who can really be team players; it is a global workforce these days,” Nordman said. “We really see sustainability skills valuable across firms and industries.”

There will be opportunities for students to learn more about gaining the right skill set to be successful in the workforce at GVSU, Christopher said.

A sustainability mixer will occur sometime around March. The mixer will allow students to hear from people who have sustainability-based jobs.

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