Community colleges can use this U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored map to guide students into “energy efficiency” careers that don’t require degrees

The map shows thirty-two “new collar” energy efficiency jobs that could be obtained without degrees.
Blog Post
June 10, 2021

This article was produced as part of New America's Initiative on the Future of Work and the Innovation Economy. Subscribe to our Future of Work Updates & Events newsletter to stay current on our latest work. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

President Biden has prioritized combatting climate change as a central tenet of his administration, and community colleges and job seekers have a new resource to engage at the intersection of President Biden’s hopes to combat climate change, support infrastructure, and bolster the workforce.

Energy efficiency has a key role to play at the intersection of these goals but access to workers remains a challenge in this sector. A new green buildings career map, developed by the non-profit Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, aims to address this gap.

The map shows career paths across fifty-five jobs in the green buildings and energy efficiency industry, which employs more than two million workers. These workers design, build and operate energy-efficient buildings.

Thirty-three of the jobs don’t require four-year degrees, and may not require a degree at all, which means more Americans could find a faster and cheaper way to make their way into this expanding industry.

The map creator, Joe Sarubbi, who spent thirty years at Hudson Valley Community College, hopes the map will help job seekers, students, policymakers, and community colleges better understand career options in the industry.

“We wanted to demonstrate that there are energy efficiency jobs out there that don't require degrees, and this map tells that story,” Sarubbi told me. “Community colleges offer courses, certificates, certification prep programs, as well as degrees that connect to jobs on this map, so there’s an opportunity for them to help students learn about these options.”

Sarubbi supported similar IREC career maps for the solar energy and HVAC/R industries. The latter was developed in conjunction with Santa Rosa Junior College, with funding from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. IREC has anecdotal evidence that community college instructors have used prior maps and could use all three maps for career days, open houses, student advising, program development, and recruitment.

Anna Sullivan, IREC's Director of Credentialing, who works with trainers and training providers at community colleges, noted the increased interest in non-degree learning pathways across the sector.

I found examples at Santa Fe Community College which offers several online non-credit courses that connect to jobs on the map, which attract students across ten states. "There's a big potential for this work to be brought into community colleges. I would use the career map, and someone in the career advising department can use it too," Amanda Hatherly, Director of Santa Fe’s Energy Smart Academy, told me. Kankakee Community College also offers a certificate program in renewables which aligns to the NABCEP Associate Level Exam.

But Hatherly also noted that while community colleges should think about ways to train the energy efficiency workforce, they should also be complementary and collaborative with non-college providers.

Both colleges and IREC flagged the non-profit Building Performance Institute as one such provider.

According to IREC, the map could be used by community colleges during career days, open houses, student advising, and recruitment.

IREC convened an expert committee to identify the energy efficiency jobs to include on the Map. To limit the map to a size that would not be overwhelming for users, it does not include jobs from the manufacturing and research sectors of the energy efficiency industry, focusing instead on construction, operations and maintenance, architecture, and other related roles.

For each job, the map includes:

  • Salary range estimates, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, national jobs boards, and career planning resources.
  • Required and preferred skills, education, and training, including relevant industry certifications.
  • How many years of work experience are typically needed to secure each type of job.
  • Other details, including a description of the roles and advancement routes.

The jobs are organized across four industry sectors and three skill levels, and the map also shows advancement routes associated with each job and skill level which can help college advisors, faculty members, states, and students understand long-term career paths.

The map organizes the jobs across four green building and energy efficiency industry sectors:

  • Architecture, Engineering & Other Professional Services
  • Building Operations/Facility Management
  • Commercial & Institutional Construction & Retrofitting
  • Residential & Multifamily Construction & Retrofitting

And across three skill levels:

  • Entry-level jobs: Require a high school diploma or equivalent and no specialized training or work experiences
  • Mid-level jobs: Require a minimum of 1-4 years of experience with post-secondary training preferred
  • Advanced-level jobs: Require 5+ years of experience, journey-level training, or a bachelor's level education.
Thirty-two "new collar" jobs in the energy efficiency industry

The eleven entry-level “New Collar” jobs that IREC’s website lists as “not requiring a college degree” include roles like a draftspersons, building maintence technicians, energy efficiency technicians, and energy efficiency sales representatives.

The listed mid-level jobs include real estate roles with green building expertise, building automation systems technician, commercial energy auditors, building performance crew leaders, and residential energy auditors.

When it comes to pay associated with entry-level jobs, some entry- and mid-level roles pay well, like a building automation systems technican – estimated to make $30-$55 an hour.

Others roles pay at rates comparable to similar lower-wage occupations that community colleges train for in the healthcare sector such as pharmacy technicians ($35,100 median annual wage), phlebotomists ($36,320), and certified nurse assistants ($30,830). But Sarubbi emphasized that, “it’s not just about where you start, but where you could be in three to five years into your career.”

He noted that, as the map illustrates, the advantage to jobs in the energy efficiency space is that advancement opportunities might be more plentiful, which New America has found is not always the case in the healthcare or other industries popular among community college offerings.

While some entry-level energy effiency roles may not pay highly, Millennials and Generation Z may be willing to take a pay cut in exchange for the environmental impact these roles have.

Generation Z are willing to pay more for eco-friendly products, and Millennials seem even more willing than Generation Z to take a pay cut for corporate environmental sustainability.

Some students might also be attracted to social justice-oriented aspects of the job. For example, the Energy Department's Weatherization Assistance Program makes energy efficiency investments more available to low-income households. The program supports 8,500 jobs and provides weatherization services to 35,000 homes each year using federal funding.

Hatherly at Santa Fe College affirmed that the opportunity to work on social impact has attracted some students to her program. “I would rather work to improve energy efficiency than install solar panels on rich people’s homes,” a student recently told her.

Will more community colleges advance education and training for the energy efficiency workforce?

While many have flashbacks to prior discussions around “green jobs,” the fact remains that these job openings exist and employers are looking to fill them.

And degree requirements or not, the Green Buildings Career Map seems to indicate that there is a noteworthy role for community colleges to play in promoting the growing energy efficiency workforce.

The Center on Education and Labor at New America (CELNA) has launched a new research and storytelling effort called New Models for Career Preparation focused on centering quality and equity at the heart of community colleges and their pre-degree workforce programs.

Have thoughts? I'd love to hear from you. Get in touch by email or on Twitter. I’m at Jyotishi[@] and on Twitter @ShalinJyotishi.

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