Growing the weatherization workforce to help Vermont meet climate goals
Have you struggled to find a weatherization contractor recently? You might not be alone. Efficiency Vermont’s hardworking network of professional contractors wants to help. But there aren’t enough trained workers to serve the volume of Vermonters who want to weatherize.
That problem isn’t going away. Vermonters want to weatherize. It can save money and improve a home’s comfort. Weatherization is also an important part of Vermont’s climate goals. The Energy Action Network (EAN) estimated that Vermont needs to weatherize 13,400 homes each year by 2030 to meet its climate goals. Today, about 2,000 homes each year are weatherized. That is a big gap. To meet those ambitious goals, EAN estimates the workforce needs to grow five-fold in the next five years.
In 2021, the Vermont Legislature created a working group to look into how to grow that workforce. Legislators selected Efficiency Vermont to lead the working group. To do this work we partnered with:
- stakeholders from the regional low-income weatherization program offices,
- other efficiency utilities,
- technical and career centers,
- state agencies,
- trade associations, and more.
In October, the working group submitted its final report back to the Legislature. The report included an overview of barriers to growing the weatherization workforce. The working group also recommended actions for the legislature to consider.
The working group identified five barriers to growing the workforce:
- Focus on four-year college. The state promotes a four-year degree as the primary path for our young people. That leaves unclear paths to entering Vermont’s construction trades.
- Worker shortages. There aren’t enough skilled weatherization workers. Weatherization often requires working in uncomfortable conditions (like hot attics and damp crawlspaces). This makes hiring and retention challenging.
- Wage competition. Weatherization jobs compete against other similar-paying jobs with less-strenuous working conditions. The current low unemployment period makes this a bigger challenge.
- Funding uncertainty. Funding for weatherization incentives comes from several sources. Current funding is expected to decrease significantly in the coming years. The uncertainty around future funding can make businesses reluctant to hire new workers.
- Affordable housing shortage. Employees required to be on job sites for their work must be able to afford to live nearby. Without affordable housing, potential employees may not want to take a job in Vermont. Housing prices might also force existing workers to leave the state.
The working group recognized that many of these issues go beyond weatherization alone. These are larger challenges facing the Vermont economy that state officials have been and will be grappling with for years. The report included six recommendations to help grow the workforce. Some of these recommendations would also support broader economic vitality across sectors.
- Weatherization workforce training & certification. The working group designed a worker training and certification program (described below). This would provide a clear career path for weatherization workers.
- Marketing the trades as a future. Young people are rarely encouraged to join the trades as a viable career opportunity. Marketing should include demonstrating field experiences and career growth potential. We can also work to cultivate a trade-oriented mindset. This will help young Vermonters understand the value of weatherization work.
- Reaching out to New Americans. New Americans are a growing part of our population. They are often looking for jobs when they move to Vermont. Some options to help open the door for employing New Americans include:
- Offering construction-oriented English as a second language
- Expanded soft-skills training would open the door for this population.
- Working with employers to support cultural awareness and improve communication.
- Transparency around wages and job rates. Vermont should track and report wages by position. This will spotlight wage disparities and prove long-term career opportunities. Tracking retention will help us understand what keeps workers in Vermont.
- Creating workforce housing. Vermont should build new affordable housing for weatherization workers. Public-private partnerships could support this development.
- Sustaining demand for weatherization. Predictable, long-lasting incentives are critical to maintain and grow the weatherization workforce. Stable funding sources will help ensure a stable workforce.
The working group proposed a career path for weatherization workers. For each step of the path, they identified the skills needed. After getting training, the state would certify the worker at that level. They would then be eligible for higher pay and better jobs.
This path builds on established career levels used in construction. It also includes a certification for Residential HVAC Contractor. These are specialists in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) in cold climates. HVAC and weatherization go hand-in-hand. Today, many employers already hire staff with expertise in both areas. As they progress, this may be a natural career opportunity for interested workers.
Overcoming only one barrier won’t create a stable, growing weatherization workforce. The barriers and challenges facing the weatherization workforce go beyond one industry. To solve them, we must collaborate and use outside-the-box thinking with public and private partners. But like the barriers, the benefits go beyond one industry. Weatherization is key to meeting our greenhouse gas emissions requirements. Each weatherization project helps a Vermont family or business stay more comfortable and save money. We also stand to grow an industry that would be rooted in Vermont and support a thriving local economy.