Pennsylvania County Puts Contractors Back to Work

Posted by Danielle Sass Byrnett on February 21, 2013
Pennsylvania County Puts Contractors Back to Work

Fayette County, Pennsylvania, may have a high unemployment rate, but it is using this challenge as an opportunity to improve homes and the local economy with energy efficiency upgrades. As a Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partner, the Fayette County Better Buildings Initiative has two primary goals—complete more than 1,000 residential energy efficiency upgrades and transition under- and unemployed citizens to energy efficiency jobs.

In order to train the workforce necessary to reach new customers with energy upgrades, the program relied on the expertise of the Private Industry Council (PIC) of Westmoreland/Fayette. PIC is a local nonprofit organization that fosters career training and workforce development throughout the county, providing the contractor training for the Fayette County Better Buildings Initiative.

In developing the workforce training components of the program, PIC leveraged the existing efforts of its Pathways Out of Poverty program, which offers introductory training in energy efficiency and renewable energy careers to low-income county residents. These courses helped introduce energy efficiency to Fayette County contractors, but they did not provide the depth of technical or entrepreneurial training needed to establish successful businesses that could help meet the county’s upgrade goals.

To provide more targeted technical training and business skills, PIC partnered with Douglas Education Center (DEC), a private proprietary school it had worked with on other vocational training programs, to provide free training courses to participating contractor firms. The training program’s primary goal was to increase the number of Building Performance Institute (BPI)-certified technicians in the workforce, but optional classes included business development training and sales training. Between May 2011 and June 2012, more than 70 of PIC’s newly trained technicians found employment with existing companies or started their own businesses.

In addition to providing training to those seeking a career change or additional work, program managers understood that technicians who were under- or unemployed were unlikely to have the financial capacity to purchase the equipment necessary to get new contracting companies of the ground. This realization prompted the program to offer additional grants and a revolving loan fund for contracting companies with technicians who have completed both building analyst and building envelope certification courses. Eligible companies qualified for a $1,000 grant and equipment loans for up to $5,000, which companies have since invested in everything from insulation machines to modeling software to iPads for technicians in the field.

By fall 2012, the program and its partner contractors had completed approximately 500 upgrades, resulting in roughly 6,500 job hours worked. Program managers expect to keep accelerating the pace of upgrades and job opportunities for the region during 2013.

To learn more about how Fayette County is developing the skills and tools necessary for workforce success, read the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program case study.

This story originally appeared as part of DOE’s Better Buildings Neighborhood Progam website; read more about Fayette County and related case studies here.

The Better Buildings Neighborhood Program is part of a national Better Buildings Initiative led by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that is improving comfort, decreasing costs, and supporting U.S. job growth by transforming the marketplace for energy efficiency upgrades in homes and businesses. At the local level, Better Buildings has provided seed funding to more than 40 state and local energy efficiency programs across the country that are helping consumers reduce energy use, save money, and support the development of local jobs.

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