Editorial: After Weatherization - Career Paths in Energy Efficiency

July 01, 2009
July/August 2009
A version of this article appears in the July/August 2009 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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The government’s breathtaking investments in energy efficiency—and notably in weatherization—are creating a boom in the industry. If all goes according to plan, hundreds of thousands of new people will soon join the home energy efficiency sector. Most of these new jobs will require little training and offer commensurately low pay (but hey, it’s a job). This level of government expenditure cannot be sustained, so now is the time to prepare for postweatherization careers in home energy efficiency. That’s why several articles in this issue address training.

It is also time to explore the career path for people engaged in energy efficiency. Many of the stimulus jobs will disappear when the economy recovers and the recent hires drift into other sectors. But for those remaining, how can a person expect to pursue a lifetime career devoted to home energy efficiency? That trajectory is still being defined, though some aspects of it are already clear. The career path must begin modestly—and with the expertise and customer base available today—and lead to the acquisition of new skills that result in a rewarding job at a fair wage. The home energy efficiency workforce must also transition to serving a broader, wealthier clientele outside the weatherization community. This clientele is likely to be more concerned with comfort, aesthetics, and resale value than with energy efficiency.

It’s hard to describe the future “typical” job in the home energy efficiency industry, because that industry encompasses so many skills and trades. The majority of jobs will probably look like something in today’s construction industry. This includes contractors dealing with heating and cooling, windows, and ventilation. A different kind of expert will be needed to address the burgeoning “miscellaneous” uses of energy—from swimming pools and well pumps to computers and home networks—because these miscellaneous uses cross many trades. But there will also be code inspectors, architects, and positions inside firms and government agencies. If utilities are adequately compensated for saved energy, they could become large employers of the postweatherization workforce. I expect new specializations will arise, particularly those dealing with energy use by, and the comfort of, the elderly.

It’s also fair to ask if the postweatherization career in energy will take place mostly in small businesses or as an arm of a larger enterprise, like a utility. Or will it find a home in an entirely new form of business?

Perhaps this topic is too broad for those involved in training home performance contractors to form a consensus, yet many institutions need to start planning now. Community colleges need to design courses, colleges need to train instructors, and governments need to amend programs and laws. And of course, future members of this new energy efficiency workforce need to make their own career choices.

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