By Xavier “Zave” Walter
The density of certified individuals around the country varies dramatically, mostly in tandem with robust rebate and weatherization programs. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) calls out ANSI/BPI 2400 standard for energy savings predictions, offering thousands in rebates and tax incentives. What about the States with little to no certified workforce?
In my home state of West Virginia, I have connected with all 26 BPI-certified individuals in one fashion or another. About 15 of them joined us in Nashville for the 2022 National Home Performance Conference. Most of them are relegated to specific community action agencies, and only a few are doing existing market rate home audits or code compliance work. What about all the other 6,177 energy efficiency workers in the Mountain State? We need to connect with them and gauge their perception of this impending tsunami of rebates. It is vital that we connect with existing contractors to see what kind of training they want or need as it relates to building science and innovation.
To have a job readiness program, you must have employers looking to hire, and those employers need to understand that they are not just offering a job, but a career. Every employee wants to know that they have an opportunity to advance, even if they are happy with the role that they are in. The complaint of employers is commonly that they are afraid to expend training dollars on an employee only to lose them to a competitor. We can remove this objection if the employer is compensated to provide mentorship that won’t make them feel screwed over when the employee moves on to a better opportunity. The IRA can provide funding to reduce the cost of that training both in classroom, and in field. On -the-job learning is an employer investment that should be subsidized to reduce their liability. This can encourage “incubators” for the industry and create a pipeline of upward mobility for workers to enable employees to reach their potential even when it may not align with the current needs of the company in which they work.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) otherwise known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) offers up to $40 million nationwide specifically for BPI HEP Energy Auditor, RESNET HERS, and ASHRAE trainings (among others), all of which require prerequisites job hours, provisional oversight, and mentorship. The $200 million in IRA training dollars may be able to be braided with existing activities including workforce development and Department of Labor initiatives like registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs. Coupling certification training costs, along with on-the-job training wage subsidies, we can empower a longer-term path for workforce development that extends out as required to September 2031. Long-term commitments to workforce development removes the necessity to act fast and enables local participation and program development that will produce the systemic change and sustainability the trades need today. This will give us plenty of time to hear from those on that ground as to exactly what they need, and to prepare localized solutions that work.
Partnerships will drive much of the investments into workforce development and creating a network of partners is imperative to success at every level. When guidance is being negotiated at the Department of Energy, DOE will need partners that understand what contractors and schools need and want. Small non-profits on the ground must be included in the conversation and connected to their state energy officials designing the programs and disbursing the funds. Schools need partnerships to incorporate credential trainings into their existing programs, and industry test centers will need to provide soft-skills trainings in a format that is accessible and works with people’s schedules. Partnering with the local Department of Labor workforce development programs, AmeriCorp Vista, YouthBuild, and others can unlock additional dollars to help build the capacity the industry needs to meet its goals while maintain a pipeline of excited workers.
A Bright Future
There is little doubt that we are at the cusp of significant federal investment into a new landscape of workers around the reduction of natural resources and waste. Real investment into homes can provide monumental change to quality of life, individual motivation, and help to avert an environmental catastrophe.
However, we have a shortage of makers, coordinators, and laborers that will hamper the ability of consumers to make their homes healthy and efficient. Integrating the personal desires of the worker with the business needs of the employer is a delicate weave of gap analysis, awareness, and honest conversations.
Having an industry recognized educational path coupled with advancement opportunity while still being able to afford housing and food is imperative to solving the worker problems we face today. Just as technology and the pandemic changed our entire way of life, we need to be nimble as an industry in the design of workforce programs that work for the workers in the communities for which they serve.
Zave Walter is the State Outreach Coordinator for the Building Performance Association. Zave has more than a decade of experience conducting energy audits, air sealing, and whole-home retrofits under the Home Performance with Energy Star Program. One of his greatest passions is helping others understand the value of making homes more comfortable, safe, and efficient.