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.

michael mccormickMichael McCormick poured his first home foundation more than three decades ago. Since then, he’s built everything from starter houses to mansions to a transplanted English castle.

At 55, he understands the importance of keeping his skills up to date. So he went back to school five years ago to update his blueprint reading skills and knowledge of ever-changing building codes. The collapse of the Puget Sound housing market coincided with his graduation.

For nearly three years, McCormick has done whatever he could to pay the bills and advance his career: taking classes in construction management, doing odd remodeling jobs, building decks, even falling back on a former career cutting hair.

Then he heard a Presidential candidate named Barack Obama talk about green-collar jobs as a way to fix the country’s crumbling economy.

  • “I didn’t know exactly what that meant, I just knew it was the direction I would go,” said McCormick. “I figured he’d been listening to enough people that he had a pulse on what it was going to take to get things going again.”

    Since then, McCormick has done many of the right things to move his career in that direction. He’s gotten training in restoring historic buildings and completed an energy auditing class at Shoreline Community College. He hopes to become accredited to verify that “green” homes are being built to national standards.

    For now, though, McCormick remains laid off.

    There are few laws requiring existing homes to become more energy efficient, McCormick said. Though interest among homeowners may be growing, it still seems spotty, he said. So far, the Pacific, WA, resident hasn’t seen evidence that homeowners on a large scale have been convinced that making deep and comprehensive energy efficiency investments is worth the hassle.

    “Right now there’s no demand. The people from the top down are saying that but no one from the bottom up is saying it,” he said. “Unless that changes, it doesn’t matter how much training I get.”

    First and foremost, money is always an issue, he said. There has to be a compelling financing mechanism that allows a building’s owner to help cover the costs of an up-front investment with the energy savings they’ll realize in years to come.

    Secondly, homeowners are inherently suspicious of contractors. Any utility- or government-run program needs a strong marketing plan to lay out the benefits and connect homeowners with reputable workers—including an independent energy auditor who can verify that the work has been done correctly.

    “A lot of it boils down to trust,” he said.

    McCormick hopes that some of the energy efficiency incentives and programs being put into place right now will stimulate that demand. In the meantime, all he can do is keep looking for work and keep learning to stay competitive.

    Even with his background in construction, the energy auditing class gave him an education in how buildings leak energy through wall sockets, sheetrock cracks and crawl spaces. He also got an introduction to the science that explains how air flows through homes, picks up pollutants and creates conditions that can harbor mold.

    He’s eager to start retrofitting homes and businesses to save energy, improve their performance and make them healthier. All he needs is demand for his services.

    “If it does bust loose, I’ll be ready,” McCormick said. “Our country is so energy inefficient…and now we’re being asked to change our ways, and I was the first one to say ‘I’ll do that.'”