There was a classic chicken-or-the-egg moment in Washington State’s Clark County last year when officials learned about the million dollars heading their way for additional home energy upgrades. What comes first, weatherization training or jobs?
“We knew the Stimulus funds were coming…but there was not a huge workforce available,” says Todd Oldham, executive director for the continuing education at Clark College in Vancouver, Wash. “So we began to explore.”
In a joint effort, Clark College, the county’s community services agency, the workforce development council and a local weatherization business decided to go with the egg.
They came up with an on-the-job training program, which is facilitated by the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council. Richart Family, Inc., a weatherization service based in Vancouver, did the hiring and Clark College trained the workers.
“This is an example of a regional approach to weatherization,” Oldham says. “This was a success and has been a result of a lot community interaction.”
Richart Family has hired 25 new workers since last September to help with the infusion of weatherization work in the southwestern part of Washington. Half of those workers were from the construction and manufacturing businesses and had no weatherization experience.
Travis Top, 29, of Vancouver, was part of the first round of people to get hired and go through the training at Clark College, where they received Building Performance Institute (BPI) Energy Analyst and BPI Shell certifications after 12 weeks of classroom time and field training.
His hunt for a job ended at Worksource, a career center for unemployed and dislocated workers, where he found out about the training program. He now makes more than $25 an hour at Richart Family.
After Top was laid off from his job making eco-friendly soaps in 2008, he spent almost two years searching for work at other manufacturing businesses without any luck. “They wanted to pay me $10 an hour,” says Top. “But with a family, a wife and four kids, that is just not worth it to me.”
For five months at Richart Family, he helped the company weatherize homes, acting like an apprentice before he received his BPI certifications.
“Before I took the class, I was weatherizing homes, and I didn’t understand why—all the stuff did not click,” says Top. “Now that I went to the classes, I know why I am doing my job…It’s the knowledge.”
Top says he weatherizes about two or three homes a week.
By August, Clark College hopes to have trained a total of 43 students who are either new hires or existing employees at Richart Family.
“In less than six months, a large majority of the twelve disadvantaged worker new hires have evolved into highly effective, fully employable weatherization workers making living wage and now carrying certifications,” said Mike Richart, an executive with Richart Family. “A true success story in anyone’s book.”