More Workforce Funding Expected for Community Colleges from Energy Department

The U.S. Energy Department expects $24 million in awards to establish Industrial Assessment Centers at community colleges and trade unions in 2024. Here is how to be competitive.
Blog Post
$24 million is expected to be awarded by the Energy Department to establish Industrial Assessment Centers at community colleges, trade unions.
Feb. 1, 2024

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.

In November 2023, the U.S. Energy Department (DOE) selected community colleges and trade unions to receive $32 million in funding to establish IACs for the first time since the program was established in 1976. The expansion was made possible due to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Last month, the DOE’s Office of Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains and the Office of Energy Justice and Equity announced the intent to release an additional $24 million in grant funding for community colleges, trade unions, and labor management partnerships to establish Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs) to expand workforce pathways into energy efficiency jobs.

DOE's Industrial Assessment Centers program has a dual mission:

  1. The hosts of IACs, 4-year universities until now, provide free energy assessments to small and medium-sized manufacturers, those with fewer than 500 employees, to identify opportunities to save money, reduce energy waste, and improve productivity.
  2. The assessments and subsequent implementation projects provide students, apprentices, and incumbent workers with hands-on experiential learning opportunities that increase skill attainment and broaden pathways to jobs in the energy sector that do not require a four-year degree.

Speaking to the initial IAC expansion announcement Giulia Siccardo, Director of the Office of Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains, told New America that IACs are the “definition of a 'win-win'" since IAC project result in students gaining “valuable hands-on, shopfloor experience” and manufacturers gaining a “technical consulting assessment that might otherwise cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Applications for the next round of IAC funding are expected to launch in late winter or spring 2024. Applicants are expected to apply to one of three tracks:

  • Track 1: One-year initial planning and capacity-building awards,
  • Track 2: Three-year execution and scale awards and
  • Track 3: Three-year consortia and cohort awards to be given to groups of colleges, state systems, multi-local union projects, apprenticeship intermediaries, and their IAC-eligible partners

The DOE expects that the next solicitation will be the first in a series of annual calls for proposals so that recipients of Track 1 can apply for Track 2 or 3 funding in a subsequent cycle. This creates the runway for community colleges or trade unions to gradually learn how to fulfill the role of an IAC host and expand work-based learning opportunities for students.

Leveraging IAC Funding to Support Workforce Development in the Energy Sector

IACs can support many workforce development opportunities for community college students and apprentices. The DOE encourages applicants to incorporate best practices around employer partnerships, leveraging dual enrollment, work-based learning, stackable micro-credentials and industry-recognized credentials, and comprehensive career advising.

Awards may be used for curriculum development, instructor recruitment, professional development, student wages to support paid work-based learning at small and medium-sized manufacturing firms, wraparound services, and equipment purchases.

Using IAC funding, community colleges could expand registered apprenticeship opportunities, establish degree apprenticeships, and even credit-bearing short-term bootcamp programs.

Become Competitive for DOE's IAC Awards

Since most community colleges and trade unions will be new to IACs, the DOE is encouraging applicants to consider partnerships with existing IAC hosts, including the community colleges and trade unions that were selected for the 2023 IAC awards listed below.

Resources for Industrial Assessment Center Applicants

Learning from Centers of Excellence

The DOE has also identified five IAC Centers of Excellence that help identify best practices for IAC hosts. Prospective applicants can consult the Centers of Excellence to understand how to support students and fortify partnerships with manufacturers needing IAC various consultative services.

The Great Plains Center of Excellence at Oklahoma State University, administered in partnership with Northern Oklahoma College, Wichita State University, and the University of Nebraska, explicitly aims to “deepen the IAC network’s partnerships with community colleges and tribal communities."

Partnering with Universities

IACs are also encouraged to partner with 4-year institutions to augment their capabilities. Last fall, DOE announced WSU Tech as one of the first 2-year selectees for an IAC award. WSU Tech has plenty of experience collaborating with universities. It became a formal part of Wichita State University, a public research university, in 2018, which already had its own IAC center.

"The expansion of the IAC program to 2-year institutions is not about competition but recognizing the unique strengths each type of institution brings to the table," shared Sheree Utash, President of WSU Tech and Vice President of Workforce Development for Wichita State University, in an email statement in response to the selection announcement.

2-year could partner with 4-year institutions to deliver upskilling for their faculty members, involve university engineering faculty and students in evaluative projects, add 4-year representatives to program advisory committees, learn on university research expertise and technology transfer, and devise transfer pathways into relevant degree programs at local institutions.

Understanding How IACs Meet Student and Employer Needs

As for understanding career pathways available to students participating in IAC evaluations, the Energy Department maintains a jobs board for student participants in IAC and the DOE has put out career maps to identify pathways into a variety of green jobs that do not require 4-year degrees.

Prospective applicants should also strengthen relationships with local small and medium-sized employers who could benefit from its IAC services. To be eligible for an IAC assessment, DOE requires manufacturers must meet these criteria:

  • Within Standard Industrial Codes (SIC) 20-39
  • Gross annual sales below $250 million
  • Fewer than 500 employees at the plant site
  • Annual energy bills of more than $100,000 and less than $3.5 million
  • No professional in-house staff to perform the assessment
  • Because they are one-day assessments, IACs typically limit their site visits to locations that can be reached via a two-hour drive (~150 miles) from the host

Utash advises 2-year institutions seeking an IAC award to articulate a clear and compelling vision for how the IAC will address the needs of local industries. "Highlight any successful partnerships with local businesses and emphasize the potential for tailored training," Utash shared.

To get a detailed sense of the work of IACs, applicants can study the DOE’s IAC database is a collection of data from over 19,000 publicly available IAC assessments along with recommended energy-saving projects. Applicants can search the database based on the type of manufacturer assessed, the resulting recommendations, and the IAC that performed the assessment, which can help identify potential partners and advisory committee members.

Interested community colleges and trade unions should subscribe to the DOE’s Office of Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains newsletter and contact with any questions about the IAC program.

Shalin Jyotishi is New America's Senior Advisor for Education, Labor, and the Future of Work. Follow Shalin on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Related Topics
College and Career Readiness Workforce Development & CTE