The nonprofit Energy Coordinating Agency (ECA) of Philadelphia, Inc. has trained about 2,000 low- and moderate-income adults and teenagers during the past 18 months for jobs in the energy-efficiency field and is simultaneously taking steps to help develop this emerging industry.
The ECA tries to train a workforce that is representative of the city’s residents by recruiting candidates from nonprofits, the School District of Philadelphia, the National Association of Minority Contractors, and the Hispanic Contractors Association. The ECA’s training program was developed in close cooperation with key organizations that provide training in the building and construction industries, and it provides the credentials required by federal and state agencies, utilities, and contractors.
The ECA’s training curricula were developed with Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC),1 which administers construction-industry apprenticeships. The center is an affiliate of the Building Performance Institute, Inc. (BPI),2 which trains ECA instructors. Walter V. Yakabosky, the ECA’s director of training, said that the partnerships with the BPI and ABC “ensure that our training is industry-driven and fosters relationships with potential employers.”
A trainee practices air sealing at the Knight Green Jobs Training Center.
Yakabosky joined the ECA in 2009 after working as dean for technical education and as executive director of workforce development for nearly 10 years at Delaware County Community College. Prior to that, he was an assistant director for business and industry training at the Community College of Philadelphia and manager of several businesses in the music industry.
The ECA emphasizes contextual teaching and learning in its training programs for weatherization installers, crew chiefs, energy auditors, building analysts, and other positions. Yakabosky explained, “We incorporate concepts of arithmetic and geometry, and our students read trade magazines to learn sentence and paragraph structure, punctuation, and vocabulary. This is real-life problem-solving, using information presented by a teacher.”
Students often have major remedial needs; therefore, a Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) instructor comes to the center to assist students. Yakabosky said that students tend to learn more in this contextual situation than they do when they take remedial courses at a college.
The ECA’s Knight Green Jobs Training Center, which opened in March 2010, has a staff of 17 and is located in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood. The 58,000-square-foot building, which is about 150 years old, once served as a site where uniforms were made for the Union Army during the Civil War. The building was vacant before it was renovated at a cost of $1.9 million with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, BASF Corporation, the Dow Chemical Company, the Sustainable Development Fund (part of The Reinvestment Fund), the Saint-Gobain Corporation, and other sources.
The ECA does not have precise data on the number of its incumbent and unemployed trainees who have obtained jobs, but Yakabosky estimated that 70 percent have found positions with contractors. Entry-level positions start at $11 an hour, and advanced positions can pay up to $50 to $65 an hour, depending on certifications and experience.
The ECA has been working with the School District of Philadelphia and the CCP to develop career paths in the energy-efficiency industry. The ECA awarded 20 scholarships to high school seniors who enrolled in the ECA’s weatherization and retrofit program and who took afternoon classes that led to certifications for post-graduation work as installers.
The CCP has developed two academic certificates and an associate’s degree in building science, the first in Pennsylvania. The ECA and the CCP are encouraging four-year institutions to develop a bachelor’s degree program in an energy-efficiency–related discipline.
The ECA also developed two apprenticeship programs, one for installers and another for building analysts. The U.S. Department of Labor is in the process of approving registration for the programs, which will result in apprenticeship opportunities for workers to gain on-the-job experience and academic and technical classroom instruction. Yakabosky said that “such steps give this industry credibility, but we’re still at the infancy stage.”
Yakabosky said that consumer education is necessary to help develop consumer demand for an emerging energy-efficiency industry. He added, “Homeowners are wasting 40 percent of the energy in their homes. In three to four years, they’d be paid back for energy improvements.”
Two trainees at the Knight Green Jobs Training Center test energy efficiency in a pressurized miniature house, which has a forced-air duct system and smoke generators for the fireplace, water heater, and car exhaust.
A federally funded $25 million program called Energy Works3 encourages homeowners in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties to obtain up to $15,000 at 0.99 percent interest for whole house improvements. The residential aspect of this program is managed by the ECA and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Yakabosky said that recent changes in the energy-efficiency market include the removal of rate caps that have led to electricity price increases in many parts of the state; state legislation (Act 129) requiring that all electric utilities save electricity and reduce peak load for all classes of customers; rapid development of improved financing tools for energy efficiency; and enhanced Philadelphia Gas Works energy-efficiency incentives. He said that “the public sector has to create the right policy framework, and then the private energy-efficiency sector will flourish.”
Funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for the federal Weatherization Assistance Program resulted in the creation of 1,600 jobs in Pennsylvania, but many agencies are laying off workers and subcontractors as ARRA funding declines. However, in the process contractors have diversified their work to include energy-efficiency improvements and can bid on energy contracts, since their employees have the certifications required by federal and state governments. Yakabosky estimated that about 250 contractors in the Philadelphia metropolitan statistical area have diversified in this way, out of about 600 contractors who have been doing ARRA-funded work.
The growth in energy-efficiency work in recent years has also led to an increase in the manufacturing and distribution of energy-efficient products, including hot water heaters and furnaces.
The ECA has begun training installers and energy auditors for the city of Camden, NJ, and will be providing training and technical assistance in 10 cities with the Federal Practices Group, a private consulting group based in Washington, D.C.