In the coming years, states will need to expand their skilled workforce in order to meet the increasing demand for heat pumps and other electrification measures, especially as new federal funds become available.
To help state decision-makers determine which approaches could work best for them, RAP hosted a webinar on Nov. 7, showcasing three different training models for heat pump installers developed by states, academic institutions, and industry. RAP led a roundtable discussion with the three panelists, discussing their organizational approaches to workforce training and development, exploring some of the typical challenges they face, and the role of regulators and policymakers.
The three panelists were:
- Paul Chaves, national training manager at Mitsubishi Trane HVAC USA, brought an industry perspective, leading the company’s in-house heat pump training centers.
- Audrey Knox, training manager at the International Center for Appropriate & Sustainable Technology (ICAST), helped develop a national online heat pump training curriculum.
- Bridget Gifford, program manager at Efficiency Maine, works with registered installers to drive demand for heat pumps in her state.
During the discussion the panelists identified several common themes and challenges facing their work:
First, the lack of country-wide consistency regarding regulatory requirements and training certification makes it difficult for workforce training programs that operate across multiple states. It is challenging to design workforce training curriculums that adequately prepare students to meet different certification requirements.
“Every state in the union has different licensing requirements,” Chaves said. “I’m based in Massachusetts where there is a refrigeration license, a sheet metal license, gas fitters license, and low-voltage license. I can only be on track to get one of these licenses at any given time, but in my work I might be doing sheet metal one day and refrigeration the next. If I move to another state, I’d have to start all over again. A kid coming out of high school will probably be 30 before he has all those licenses.”
There is also is a need to “make the trades cool again” and incentivize new workers into career opportunities in the trades, particularly young people. This is necessary to meet the demand for skilled workers needed to facilitate the energy transition.
“It’s so important to meet the workforce where they are,” ICAST’s Knox said. “The upcoming generation is the TikTok generation. They want things that they can get through in a couple of minutes and there’re ways you can customize to provide alternative approaches and supplemental training that are really important.”
Workers, contractors, and other entities involved in the energy space should be proactive with workforce training by intentionally seeking out trainings on heat pumps and other technologies instead of trying to play catch-up after they are sent to the job site. It would be helpful if contractors and installers saw worker training as an investment that will pay off over time, instead of an opportunity cost of lost labor hours while the worker is being trained.
Partnerships between training centers, installers, regulators, and other stakeholders are essential. Partnerships ensure success in creating workforce training programs that can graduate, and place with employers, enough skilled workers to adequately meet growing demand needs.
“My job, all day long, is to drive demand. If I am effective, I am helping those contractors’ phones ring off the hook,” Gifford said of her work with Efficiency Maine. “We provide rebates and market those rebates. We help create market conditions so customers understand that they are going to save money, save energy and be comfortable.”