A Job Market That's Heating Up

Jim Neveu says there are challenges to training people for jobs in the broad field of weatherization — as insulation installers, air sealers, energy auditors, and other specialists. “For starters, you need houses,” he explained. “And you’re just not going to find people who are going to let people come and drill holes in their homes and the other things you need to do to properly train for these jobs.” So the MassGREEN Initiative, as the program created to improvise such training programs is called, is essentially bringing the house to the trainees. Indeed, in a corner of Building 32 at Springfield Technical Community College, MassGREEN, created through $2.87 million in state and federal funding, has amassed a mock attic, mock basement, and mock walls, interior and exterior, in an effort to prepare students for what most expect will be a growing field — one devoted to enabling homeowners and business owners to become more energy-efficient. “We essentially cut the house into pieces and rebuilt it in an interior space so the students can do work on it,” said Neveu, who became director of the MassGREEN Initiative in late 2009 and has led it through its first sessions of classes, conducted at STCC and three other community colleges across the Commonwealth — Greenfield, North Shore, and Bristol. The 78-hour programs have prepared people for those jobs listed earlier, while another, still in the works and due to be initiated soon, is designed for people who want to own and manage businesses in this field. Neveu says there should be a demand for individuals in both categories as cities, states, and the country as a whole respond to a greater emphasis on energy efficiency and other ‘green’ strategies for living, working, and managing businesses. A properly weatherized home can lower heating bills by up to 32% and thus reduce the consumption — and reliance — on fossil fuels, said Neveu, adding that these numbers and ambitions alone, coupled with the vast inventory of non-weatherized homes and buildings, especially in the affordable-housing arena, should add up to tremendous opportunities for those who want to get into this field. Projections, some of them overly optimistic in the eyes of some observers, say the weatherization movement, if it can be called that, could create 800 jobs statewide in the near future, and perhaps 2,700 by 2012, said Neveu, adding that if those numbers are close to accurate, the classes being offered will be at or near capacity for some time to come. Opportunities — Through the Roof Neveu said that, to properly train people to install insulation; seal air leaks in ducts, walls, and attics; and weatherstrip doors and windows, instructors don’t need just a house, but several different kinds of houses. Thus, the MassGREEN Initiative has effectively simulated a ranch, a cape, a colonial, and “a house with lots of funky things going on,” said Neveu, who came to MassGREEN after a lengthy stint with National Grid, adding that this diversity of subject matter puts a new spin on the term ‘home work,’ and more thoroughly prepares individuals for what they’re going to find in the field. And it will also better prepare them for something called the Residential Building Envelope Accessible Areas Air Leakage Central Installer Certification Exam, a test (one Neveu believes needs a shorter name) that gives those who pass it a leg up on the competition for jobs in the weatherization field. Readying people for the field and the test are the primary goals behind MassGREEN, said Neveu, adding that the initiative was at first called the MassGREEN Institute, and later changed to initiative to more accurately reflect what it is and does. Elaborating, he said the program is a coordinated response to a growing regional and national emphasis on green efforts, especially efforts to reduce consumption of fossil fuels. While many efforts are focused on alternative, ‘clean’ energy production, such as wind and solar installations, others are targeted at conservation, and MassGREEN is one of them. Blueprinted in early 2009, the initiative is headquartered at STCC, but will hopefully involve all 15 of the state’s community colleges. Neveu said he spent roughly his first year on the job laying the foundation for the program, meaning everything from developing the courses and hiring instructors to assembling the “props,” as he called them, on which students would train. In addition to the four community colleges that started offering courses last fall, three more — Berkshire, Quinsigamond, and Roxbury — are due to begin scheduling classes this spring. And these courses are somewhat intense, said Neveu, producing a three-inch-thick workbook for instructors and a slightly smaller version for students. “There’s a lot to learn … there’s a lot of material to cover,” he told BusinessWest, adding that there will be potential job opportunities for those who pass the course in both the private sector, with contractors specializing in weatherization work, and state and federal agencies working to promote energy conservation. Due to the extreme hands-on nature of the training program, enrollment has been limited to 12 in each of the classes, said Neveu, adding that capacity was reached at Greenfield, North Shore, and Bristol, with STCC coming in just short of that number. The classes featured some diversity, he continued, adding that they included men and women, and both those already in this field and those looking to enter it. “That poses a challenge for the instructors,” he explained. “It’s a balancing act; you don’t want to bore the people who have some experience, or drown the people who don’t have any.” If the first semester is any indication, instructors created the proper balance, said Neveu, adding that doing so is imperative to one of the program’s key goals — not merely training individuals for the field, but also inspiring, and assisting, those with entrepreneurial tendencies who might be interested in starting businesses in the weatherization field. To that end, a second offering, a ‘weatherization-business development’ course, will hopefully be ready for rollout this spring, he continued. “The course is being developed now; we’re putting everything together. It’s not a hands-on course, but a classroom course focusing on how to start a business and manage one effectively.” Neveu said there is some uncertainty as to just how much growth the weatherization arena will experience in the short and long term, but the projections, even the conservative ones, are mostly positive and call for a steady diet of job opportunities. What is known that this field is starting to heat up, figuratively but also literally, and that the MassGREEN Initiative will play a lead role in helping to supply a workforce for this emerging industry. And as Neveu said, it’s meeting that mission by bringing the house to the students. George O'Brien Business West