Insights from the Residential Construction Workforce Partnership in Rhode Island

Like many industries these days, the green buildings industry—which includes building operations & facility management, construction & retrofitting, and much more—has a significant need for qualified workers. Meanwhile, there are many people for whom an entry level job in this sector could provide a pathway to a meaningful career with family-sustaining wages. 

An innovative job training program developed and implemented through a partnership between the Rhode Island Builders Association (RIBA) and CLEAResult—the Residential Construction Workforce Partnership—is bridging the gap between workers and green building jobs. 

It’s also using IREC’s Green Buildings Career Map to connect the dots and help participants understand the links between entry-level energy efficiency roles and the many long-term career opportunities they can lead to.

We spoke with David MacLellan, Program Manager, Rhode Island Income Eligible Services, and Karen Verrengia, Account Manager, at CLEAResult to understand the impacts of the program, what makes it unique, and what other job training programs can learn from it. We also explored how they utilized the Green Buildings Career Map and how other training programs can leverage it for big impacts. 

Residential Construction Workforce Partnership (RCWP): An Innovative Green Building Training Opportunity

Seeing the need to expand the pool of trained workers in the building energy efficiency sector—and the value that such jobs could bring to underserved communities—CLEAResult and RIBA joined forces to implement a free training program that would prepare workers for these jobs. The 26-week program, which consists of evening trainings three nights a week, is valued at between $6,000 and $7,000 but accepted applicants pay nothing. Funding was provided by RIBA as well as the Rhode Island Department of Labor & Training (DLT). 

Another key element of the program is that successful graduates obtain important industry certifications through the program that make it easier for them to get hired immediately. These include: 

The program also prepares participants for Building Performance Institute (BPI) Certification, which CLEAResult also offers (separate from this program). 

MacLellan says utmost attention was paid to ensuring that graduates of the program would be able to find good jobs after completing their training. To maximize the employment prospects of participants, they spoke with potential employers about their needs. This included local Community Action Partnership (CAP) agencies who administer the national Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), the country’s single largest residential whole-house energy efficiency program which weatherizes about 35,000 homes every year

One insight from these conversations was the fact that CAP agencies normally have to ensure that all new hires have certain certifications like OSHA and lead safety certifications, as well as background checks. These tasks often have to happen after a candidate is hired, leading to costs for the agency and delays in when new hires can start working in the field. By taking care of these certifications and other logistics, the RCWP program makes it an easy decision for CAP agencies and other employers in the building energy efficiency field to hire program graduates. 

“With all of that in mind, we began this program with the Rhode Island Builders Association,” says MacLellan. 

Connecting the Dots Between Entry-Level Jobs and Long-Term Careers 

Beyond these steps to ensure that the program leads directly to quality jobs for graduates, the team also wanted to ensure that participants understood the versatility of the skills they were developing and the many different job roles the training could eventually lead them into. That’s where IREC’s Green Buildings Career Map came in. 

MacLellan explained that he had initially attempted to make a flowchart that roughly explained the different career options in the field, when his colleague Karen Verrengia alerted him to IREC’s Green Buildings Career Map. They utilized the Map in some of the first sessions of the program to give participants context on the value of what they would learn. 

“By having this tool, we can look at all the many [job] possibilities with our trainees; we can point to it and say ‘This is where you can go next. This is how you get there’ and we can help people on that path.”

He emphasized that by having a resource that trainees can review on their own time and come back to again and again as they gain experience in the industry and a better sense of what they want to do in the future is very valuable. He also noted that it empowers trainees to take charge of their own career progression and understand what kinds of questions to ask. 

“This is what opens the doors for people; all of a sudden they start to see the possibilities. There’s so much that they can do and so many directions they can go in based on their own motivation, their temperament, what they like to do, what they do not like to do, whether they want to be their own boss, etc. By being able to see those kinds of things, those decisions that they get to make, they’re empowered—it’s their world.”

MacLellan notes that CLEAResult and RIBA want the program to lead to long-term relationships with the participants. As they identify roles they want to work towards, they can come back for advice, additional training in new areas, or to be introduced to employers or other workers in the space who can share perspectives. He also hopes that many of them will come back to share their experiences with future program participants. “[We hope] we’ll be able to bring people in to talk to the other folks and say, ‘Look, they went through this program and now look where they are.’”

Indications of Success 

In terms of where the participants are headed next, early hiring outcomes are already pointing to the success of the program. Forty percent of the participants already had job offers before the end of the program while an additional 35% are in the interview process with prospective employers. 

The program also prioritized connecting students from underserved communities with job opportunities and had a very diverse cohort of participants. Sixty-five percent of program participants were people of color. 

Recruitment is already starting for the next cohort, which will begin in Fall 2022. 27 people are already on the waiting list and as many as 500 applicants are expected for the next cohort. Click here to apply for the program.

Lessons for Other Energy Efficiency Training Programs

Residential Construction Workforce Partnership offers a number of lessons for other training providers in the energy efficiency sector. These include:

  • Use career maps to help trainees understand their long-term options. The Green Buildings Career Map can be a great starting point and a resource they can come back to over time. 
  • Build relationships with employers and tailor the training to address their needs and challenges. 
  • Focus on long-term relationships with trainees; as they progress along their career paths, they may seek out additional training or insights from your program and they may be able to provide valuable real-world perspectives for your future training participants.

These strategies can help connect people with good jobs in energy efficiency that they might never have heard of before or considered, while at the same time filling a critical need for employers and communities.