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Weatherization training creates jobs for low-income individuals

September 19, 2011

Weatherization training creates jobs for low-income individuals

Summit Academy puts ARRA funding to work to build Minnesota’s workforce, save energy

ST. PAUL, MN – The economic and personal impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is still being felt in Minnesota. Right now, an ARRA grant awarded by the Minnesota Department of Commerce is helping 150 low-income, unemployed workers learn new and marketable job skills at Summit Academy OIC of Minneapolis.

“Summit Academy’s Weatherization Technician Training Program is exactly the kind of effort Minnesota workers and our economy need right now,” said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “With more than 213,000 Minnesotans out of work, we need to be doing everything we can to train a skilled workforce, and help unemployed workers find good-paying jobs.”

Summit Academy is a nonprofit training center that prepares adults residing in the most economically depressed neighborhoods in the Twin Cities to become educated, employed, contributing members of their communities. A $110,000 grant (part of a larger $211,000 grant) from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources is helping Summit Academy achieve its mission with the weatherization training.

“This program is part of a larger statewide effort to enhance Minnesota’s energy workforce,” said Commissioner Rothman. “Through a targeted, strategic investment of one-time resources we are giving Minnesotans skills that will last a lifetime, while doing work that will help homeowners save energy and money for decades to come.”

Summit Academy developed the weatherization training program in collaboration with energy expert groups including Community Action of Minneapolis (CAM) and the Sustainable Resource Center (SRC). The training, delivered at Summit Academy, teaches techniques and applications used in residential energy efficiency work.

Summit’s weatherization training is delivered to trainees with prior construction experience in a 40-hour, two-week training and to trainees with no previous construction experience as part of a 20-week carpentry training course. The training includes wall and attic insulation, exterior and interior caulking, weather stripping, air sealing, blower door diagnostics, and window retrofit and replacement. Trainees get the chance to shadow weatherization work performed by CAM and see how it is done.

“The goal is to give our trainees skills they can apply in the broader green construction area,” said Leroy West, chief administrative officer of Summit Academy. “We have trained about 125 students so far, including 25 members of the Leech Lake Reservation, and we’ve placed more than 60 of those in full-time jobs.”

About 30 more individuals will receive tuition-free training by this fall. The trainees are all unemployed or underemployed when they enter the program.

“About 85 percent are unemployed, and the others have incomes of about $3,000 a year,” said West. “It’s gratifying when we are able to place our trainees in a $15-$16 an hour job—a living wage—and provide a foundation to get their lives moving in a positive direction.”

Summit Academy, in partnership with CAM and SRC, is one of several grantees throughout the state providing weatherization training for low-income individuals. The Red Lake Community Action Program is heading a collaborative program on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, and another training effort is being led by Minnesota Valley Action Council, Dunwoody College of Technology, and Emerge.

In 2009, Minnesota’s Weatherization Assistance Program received $132 million in federal stimulus funding to weatherize about 17,000 low-income homes. That funding has created job opportunities for the Summit Academy trainees and others over the past two years, but that special funding will end in March 2012. The hope is that the utilities will tap the skills of weatherization trainees and continue the state’s weatherization progress.

Weatherization training is part of a larger statewide effort to provide high-quality training in the energy efficiency and renewable energy job market. For instance, Summit Academy has also received two grants to train low-income individuals for green jobs, such as light rail construction, and construction work in the Twin Cities.

“Not only will our students be transforming their lives,” said West, “but they will be transforming our environment—building an energy efficient future that benefits all. The training we are providing is also a great resource for contractors. Contracting companies can use our program to learn weatherization techniques to qualify them for community action program projects. Companies can meet state-mandated diversity goals for these projects by hiring from Summit’s pool of top-trained minority graduates.”

For more information on weatherization training opportunities and other green energy career development, visit www.energy.mn.gov and click on “careers” or call (651) 296-5175 or (800) 657-3710, or email energy.training@state.mn.us.