Editor’s note: The following is a profile from Sightline’s green-collar jobs primer. Read more about what makes a green-collar job and how we can create more in the Northwest.
Before Greg Jordan graduated with a degree in environmental sciences from Portland State University, he imagined he might find a job working in stormwater control or restoring wetlands.
Instead, he spent his summer on a weatherization crew doing hands-on labor—slithering through crawl spaces, blowing insulation into wall cavities, sealing up air leaks—and loving it.
Out of a dozen program graduates, he’s only one of two who were able to quickly land a job in a tough economy. It wouldn’t have happened, he said, without a renewed attention and commitment to energy efficiency.
“Without the stimulus and the funding, I don’t think I would have been given this chance,” said Jordan. “The field is really just getting going. It’s been around, but finally people are realizing these little things make a big difference.”
He answered an ad placed by EcoTech LLC, an environmental services company with a background in pollution cleanup. It launched a new a business line in October 2008 in energy efficiency and weatherization.
“Historically, workers who do the unsexy work of energy efficiency, putting in insulation and doing air sealing, were viewed as no-skill or low-skill,” said Marshall Runkel, a company partner. “That’s yesterday’s way of doing business.”
Anyone can insulate a home poorly, as his crews have learned from finding others’ mistakes. The industry could use more trained employees. And it needs to pay them enough to do quality work that will help meet the nation’s carbon reduction and energy independence goals, Runkel said.
The start-up division has six employees and expects that to double or triple in the next calendar year. EcoTech started getting referrals by becoming a trade ally—essentially a recommended contractor—of the Energy Trust of Oregon, which offers cash incentives for homeowners to make energy efficiency improvements.
The company has also been accepted into a pilot program that will use $2.5 million in federal stimulus funding to weatherize 500 homes in the greater Portland area.
One factor limiting EcoTech’s growth so far is finding workers with weatherization skills. It has a graduated approach to staffing, with trainees, weatherization technicians, project supervisors and energy auditors all working together. Employees can move up that ladder as they gain skills and experience.
“The workforce development is very, very important to me. …I have to balance the work with people who are trained to do a quality job,” Runkel said. “These programs aren’t going to last if we send people into people’s houses and they mess it up.”
Jordan, 27, is interested in making a career out of energy efficiency work. He’s learning on-the-ground weatherization skills, such as how to depressurize a house, find air leaks, install floor insulation, and caulk gaps. Eventually, he’d like to run a crew, learn how to audit, and perhaps even craft policy.
For now, though, he’s happy to have a job that offers a tangible benefit—to the environment and to the community—and makes him feel like he’s making a difference.
“I do like the hands-on aspect of it,” he said. “Each house is different, so you definitely have to be creative and kind of think on the fly.”