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Seattle Moves Forward on Workforce Diversity Among Energy Efficiency Contractors

Following an 18-month process, EC Seattle and local electric utility Seattle City Light (SCL) have reached a milestone in their effort to build diversity into the workforces of local energy service contractors. With SCL’s energy efficiency incentives, commercial building owners have engaged contractors to perform energy-saving upgrades to their buildings – but until now, the municipal utility has not addressed the diversity of contractors’ workforces. 

To rectify this, the city awarded a contract to EC Seattle in 2013 to work with SCL to determine whether SCL’s non-residential energy efficiency programs could promote a more diverse workforce. EC Seattle’s research assessed the representation of women and people of color in the workforces, the use of apprentices and the opportunities for graduates of pre-apprenticeship programs. To varying degrees, all were found lacking.

On the positive side, diversity in apprenticeship programs was seen to be increasing – though still in need of improvement – and building operations was seen as a growth opportunity. 

Recommendations to City Council
Following that exploration, Seattle City Light Conservation Resources Director Craig Smith and EC Seattle Director Steve Gelb recently presented their recommendations to the Seattle City Council. They are now seeking the city council’s support for full implementation of those recommendations to:

  • Increase the employment of women and people of color in the energy efficiency construction and building operations workforce;
  • Broaden access to the workforce pipeline for residents of disadvantaged communities;
  • Create a well-trained workforce;
  • Cultivate women and minority contractors;
  • Increase contactors’ access to priority hires (as defined in Seattle’s new Priority Hire Ordinance); and
  • Gain commitments from contractors to hire from the diverse and local workforce.

“We sought to understand the demographics for the current workforce, the challenges of making it more diverse and the opportunities and mechanisms to do so,” Gelb noted in his remarks. “We look forward to continued collaboration with Seattle City Light on driving demand for energy efficiency and the job opportunities it can offer.”

More specifically, SCL indicated that it would:

  • Develop a coordinated outreach and education program with external stakeholders and other city departments for:
    • High school and college students on energy efficiency construction and building operations opportunities.
    • Women and minority contractors to prepare for work on SCL energy efficiency incentive programs and as subcontractors.
  • Design community benefits into an expanded  “Pay for Performance” Incentive Program that will roll out to scale in 2016:
    • Include provisions for priority workers, apprenticeship utilization and preferred entry for graduates of pre-apprenticeship programs.
    • Address legal considerations regarding purchase of energy savings vs. construction services and customer/contractor relationship.
  • Convene a stakeholder group comprised of building owners, property management companies and building operations training and apprenticeship programs to identify ways to support career pathways in energy efficiency building operations.
    • Identify ways to support career pathways in energy efficiency building operations.

“I think we have a really good conclusion and consider it a victory for our work,” Gelb said. “This plan to provide community benefits on private-sector projects is a model that can be replicated to other programs in Seattle and throughout the country.”

“City Light is pleased to collaborate with other stakeholders to help build a diverse, quality energy efficiency workforce and provide viable, sustainable pathways to employment and career advancement for under-represented workers, particularly people of color, women and economically disadvantaged residents,” said SCL Director, Conservation Resources Division, Craig Smith.

EC Seattle will continue to play an integral role in program development and implementation, linking SCL with business, labor and community groups.

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