The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of State and Community Energy Programs (SCEP) invited public input for its Request for Information (RFI) number DE-FOA-0002885 regarding the solicitation process and structure of future DOE Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA) to fund the Energy Auditor and Career Skills Training (EAT and CST) grant programs, in accordance with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).
This RFI also invited public input on the State-Based Home Energy Efficiency Contractor Training program (Contractor Training Program), as set forth in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
The information collected from this RFI will be used by DOE for planning purposes to develop one or multiple potential FOAs related to these programs.
DOE RFI responses were due on January 26, 2023. Here are some of the answers and insights we shared in our response:
What job categories are the hardest to find qualified candidates for (i.e., the types of jobs most difficult to fill?
Entry level are the hardest jobs to fill for the energy efficiency and the residential buildings-focused industry. Labor is hard to find, and the industry competes with other trades and industries for talent.
What are the key characteristics of these hard-to-fill jobs? For example, is it difficult to retain workers in these jobs (i.e., is there high turnover)?
Turnover for entry level positions is about 20% per year. The more that the IRA can help make this an established career field with pathways for growth and promotion, the more likely companies will be able to retain and advance their workers.
What are the entry qualifications – educational background, related experience, training, skills, and/or certifications – necessary to fill these positions?
Building Performance Institute certifications + soft skills.
In what locations do you project the greatest demand for workers?
Demand is greatest in states that have the most robust building code requirements and/or utility-incentivized programs. Currently, these include Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and more. Demand is generally broad based and changes as new requirements are implemented.
What types of contracting firms should DOE target for workforce development and business owner training (e.g., general contractors, home performance contractors, HVAC, or electrical contractors, etc.)?
Home performance contractors, solar installation firms, home inspectors, and general contractors make the best targets for our industry. Building code officials and building product manufacturers also hire and train a surprising number of people.
What education and training (i.e., workforce development) strategies are most effective, and why, for incumbent workers and contracting firms in the energy efficiency and residential buildings-focused electrification industries (e.g., online learning, classroom and lab instruction, on-the-job training, hybrid models)?
This question has a lot of factors. The most important factor is quality of the training program and the motivation structure that incentivizes the individual, organization, or company.
Everblue has focused on high quality, highly engaging education programs. We offer a mix of online, hybrid, in person, and hands-on training programs. The format of the training depends on the program, the audience, and their incentives / motivations. High quality programs design for engagement and success. Simply offering “free training” usually results in low quality and poor completion rates.
Some of our more recent offerings include micro learning and badges. These offerings complement on the job training (OJT) and allow candidates to program through a training sequence with minimal disruption to their workday and/or availability. For companies that don’t want to lose an employee for a week or more of training, these provide the opportunity to spend 15-30 minutes per day while not missing work.
On quality, quality programs take scale, constant iteration, and continuous improvement. At Everblue, we continuously tweak and improve our curriculum and training experiences to maximize engagement and student success. Organizationally, we pursued accreditation, to distinguish ourselves. In this field, IREC Accreditation is the best marker for a quality, committed training program.
During the ARRA funding, many new organizations stood up new programs. This led to a race to the bottom in terms of cheap, poorly developed, poorly maintained curriculum and programs. The goal of some organizations was to get paid for student attendance regardless of the actual outcome (this is also an issue that affects training in other industries). When ARRA funding came out, there were companies that solely survived off grant funding and never had a sustainable business model, nor did they focus on long-term quality.
Quality takes time and money to maintain. There are dozens of existing, accredited training programs with years of experience in this exact field. They are best positioned to provide training and curriculum.
At Everblue, we get paid by many private customers to deliver high quality training. If our training was not high quality and impactful to the business, we would not be in business.
What education and training (i.e., workforce development) strategies are most effective, and why, for new workers in the energy efficiency and residential buildings-focused electrification industries (e.g., online learning, classroom and lab instruction, on-the-job training, hybrid models)?
Effective workforce development strategies typically take a partnership approach where multiple parties work together to design and implement effective training programs that result in good outcomes (employment, higher wages, new job skills, or promotion potential) for workers.
We have had many successful partnerships over the past 15 years.
In our experience, no one format of education works best, BUT the design of the program is extremely important.
High quality programs focus on motivating students. Motivation matters. To provide motivation, it takes high quality training + on the job training coupled with badges or certifications that reward progression. We have found that both individual enrollments and cohorts work. Sometimes cohorts provide peer social motivation to complete programs and training.
On high quality training, quality curriculum needs to be constantly improved to become effective. No one wants to sit through mandatory, boring training!
Is there a need for programs to train the trainer? If so, what strategies are most effective for programs that train the trainer? Who is best positioned to administer these programs?
The best opportunity for train the trainer is to provide such training for the On The Job mentors. Teach them the technical and soft skills required to be a successful mentor / trainer of new employees. Private companies, community colleges, etc. can hire trainers. The missing piece is training the on the job mentors. There is no program for that, and many businesses do not have the resources or know-how to train mentors on their own.
What education and training (i.e., workforce development and business owner support) are most effective, and why, for contracting firms? Why and when do contracting firms participate in training, amidst other competing priorities? What business owner training strategies for contracting firms exist?
Business owners respond to incentives. They are willing to lose a crew member when required or when it unlocks other opportunities. Otherwise, they do not like to pay someone that is not available for work.
Business owners also worry that providing education for employees makes them more valuable and more likely to look for another position elsewhere… that fear provides a disincentive for investing in their employees.
Strategy #1 – Provide money to business owners directly for training and certification. Provide money directly to training organizations and let us recruit individuals from our existing business customers.
Strategy #2 – Incentivize market demand. Provide money or incentives for municipalities, counties, utilities, etc. to require BPI certification and energy audits.
Strategy #3 – Provide incentives for individuals to earn certifications and progress through mastery of industry knowledge. Ideally, energy auditing and energy efficiency become nationally standardized and recognized job fields like one would recognize plumber or electrician. To that end, the standards and certifications need to be nationally recognized. It’s great that each state wants to design its own programs, BUT national standardization helps the individual make better career choices.
Which certifications or credentials should the Energy Auditor Training Grant, CST, and Contractor Training Program prepare participants for?
Everblue works with nearly all of the existing standards, certification and credentialing bodies. The Building Performance Institute (BPI) is the best set of standards and certifications for workers and the industry. The BPI Certification scheme is well run, difficult but attainable, nationally recognized, and focused on existing homes.
How could DOE funding be used to support continued education, job placement, and supportive services for the energy efficiency and residential buildings-focused electrification workforce? How can DOE ensure that workers have pathways for growth and well-paying careers within their industries?
Everblue is working with the Building Performance Association (BPA) to implement a software to many of these challenges, such as continuing education, job placement, recruiting for companies, and supportive services.
This proposed Workforce Development Hub can provide a matchmaking listing/marketplace of candidates and hiring companies. Local contractors want to hire and struggle to find talent. Local talent doesn’t know which companies are hiring. Software can help with this.
Further, the Workforce Development Hub will make the continued education pathway for individuals and companies clearer and simpler to navigate.
Lastly, the incumbent worker training program paperwork is so cumbersome that many small businesses struggle to complete the paperwork. Further, the slow bureaucratic nature of the workforce development process means that many small businesses simply do not participate.
How can DOE-funded workforce programs support career ladders for individuals to ensure they continue to acquire skills and advance their career and wages over time?
Provider a ladder of training and certifications that advance with the candidate as they gain experience. BPI already does this. Build on that.
Further, getting states and utilities to require certifications is the best way to drive the industry to invest in talent and skills.
How can DOE-funded workforce programs best help connect trainees with employment opportunities?
Everblue and BPA propose implementing the Workforce Development Hub that includes matchmaking software to help companies and talent find each other.
How could the EAT, CST, and Contractor Training Program most effectively work together?
Use existing credentials (BPI, RESNET, NABCEP) and accreditation of training providers (IREC) to drive quality programs to make investments in long-term partnerships.
What existing workforce education and training efforts (e.g., specific registered apprenticeship programs, labor management training programs, community college or technical school programs, pre-apprenticeship programs, etc.) are preparing displaced, underrepresented, and historically disadvantaged workers for energy efficiency and residential buildings-focused electrification jobs? How can those efforts be best supported or augmented to ensure the success of the EAT, CST, and Contractor Training Program? What training pathways are needed, or already exist, to address those needs?
Everblue partners with a myriad of organizations to train the disadvantaged.
Some examples of partnerships:
- Prisoner training and certification within the Ohio Prisons construction training program
- AmeriCorps online training, certification, and OJT for at-risk youth
- Fayetteville Technical Community College for training veterans leaving the service
These programs could always use more funding for training cohorts. They do not need new facilities or new curriculum.
How can DOE encourage diverse and inclusive entrepreneurship in the energy efficiency and residential buildings-focused electrification industries?
Include business skills and entrepreneurship training programs. Everblue’s main office is located inside an entrepreneurship and innovation hub that is run in partnership with Davidson College. Leverage existing entrepreneurial programs to encourage small businesses within the energy efficiency industry. At Everblue, we call this type of training “Business in a Box.”
How should the quality of and equitable access to jobs by these programs be measured and evaluated? What specific performance measures should be collected to assess program quality?
IREC Accreditation for trainers is a great quality measure.
For recruiting, employment, etc, the best measure would be whether or not a program was in conception or existing pre-IRA funding. If a program was survivable before the surplus of excess federal funds, it was probably a high quality program doing good in the world. It would be great to see the IRA funding encourage more long-term sustainability of our industry.
Please provide any additional information or input not specifically requested in the questions above that would be valuable to help DOE develop the Program FOA and implement the EAT, CST, and Contractor Training Program.
Everblue is working with the Building Performance Association (BPA), the Building Performance Institute (BPI), multiple State Energy Offices, and multiple training providers to implement software called the Workforce Development Hub. The aim is to improve many of the administrative processes required by organizations, individuals, hiring companies, and the state agencies. Using software, we can help standardize the industry and promote its growth efficiently.
We look forward to seeing how the DOE and its grant recipients use the RFI responses to help shape the implementation and administration of the Energy Auditor, Career Skills, and Contractor Training programs.