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Vermont Contractor Program Turns It Up when Temperatures Drop

Posted by Danielle Sass Byrnett on March 29, 2013
Vermont Contractor Program Turns It Up when Temperatures Drop

In an area of the country where cold weather dominates for more than half the year, one program knows how to turn up the heat to help contractors manage the influx of customers looking to improve their comfort and energy efficiency over the winter.

Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partner NeighborWorks of Western Vermont (NWWVT) created the NeighborWorks Home Energy Assistance Team (H.E.A.T.) Squad in 2010 to help Rutland County, Vermont, homeowners connect with qualified contractors who could evaluate and upgrade their homes. One year into the H.E.A.T. Squad’s launch, weatherization contractors were struggling to keep pace with the fluctuating demand for home energy efficiency upgrades. Demand for weatherization in Vermont is cyclical, typically peaking in fall and winter while ebbing in spring and summer.

“When demand is low, contractors may not have enough incoming work to keep their staff busy; at other times, there might so much work that contractors are forced to delay projects, and upgrades get bottlenecked,” said H.E.A.T. Squad Coordinator Melanie Paskevich.

To assist H.E.A.T. Squad contracting firms during busier periods, NWWVT established a nonprofit temporary labor pool called LaborWorks@NeighborWorks. The program leveraged its connections at the Vermont Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and a statewide green jobs training initiative to recruit qualified workers. LaborWorks also conducts interviews, runs background checks, contacts references, and pays temporary employees; contractors just pay a per-hour fee.

More than 10 employees of various ages and backgrounds have worked in the temporary pool since the LaborWorks started, and about three to five workers are in the pool at any given time. LaborWorks also surveys employers about each temp, compiles the results, and tracks each employee’s ratings. “We think the ultimate success of this program is achieved when a contractor hires a trained temporary worker on a full-time basis, which has happened on two occasions since we started,” Paskevich said.

For other programs considering a similar workforce approach, Paskevich shared the following advice:

  • Work with contractors up front to design the program and explain its benefits.
  • Establish a program coordinator, at least part-time, to administer the temporary labor pool.
  • Get started early and plan ahead! It takes longer than you think to set up the administrative framework, including insurance and legal documentation.
  • Make sure that prospective temps understand the nature of weatherization work and ensure they can work in those conditions (e.g., crawling into tight spaces).
  • Consider opening up your temporary pool to a variety of trades (e.g., insulators, masons, landscapers) to accommodate a diversified project pipeline.

To learn more about LaborWorks@NeighborWorks, read the full interview with Paskevich.

 

Danielle Sass Byrnett is the manager of the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program.

This story originally appeared as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Better Buildings Neighborhood Progam Focus Series of interviews about lessons learned by its state and local energy efficiency program partners across the country. Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners are helping consumers reduce energy use, save money, and support the development of local jobs.

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