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York pilot program prepares students for green energy jobs

A woman speaks at a lectern on a stage.
Rachel McDevitt
StateImpact Pennsylvania
Margarita Mazyck speaks at the graduation ceremony for the Building Green Futures program in York on April 25, 2024.

A pilot program in York graduated its second class of energy efficiency workers, who may help fill a growing need.

Pennsylvania’s energy efficiency workforce could grow from about 75,000 jobs now to 200,000, according to a study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst that looked at the possible impact of federal climate investments from the Inflation Reduction Act on job growth.

Meanwhile, many people in the trades are reaching retirement age, leaving a workforce gap.

Pennsylvania College of Technology, the nonprofit Energy Efficiency Alliance, and the immigrant rights group CASA teamed up to create Building Green Futures. It’s a six-week program that readies students to recognize and find solutions to efficiency issues through classroom and on-the-job experience.

Graduates leave prepared to do home energy audits, seal air leaks, and install insulation.

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Margarita Mazyck, 59, said a few years ago she wouldn’t have believed she would be squeezing into tight attic crawl spaces – and enjoying it.

“It was creepy as I don’t know what, but I did it. And when I came down, I felt good,” Mazyck said. “It felt like I was doing something worthwhile.”

Mazyck is one of six new graduates who completed the second run of the pilot program at CASA’s Roosevelt Welcome Center in York. Last year, the program graduated three.

CASA leaders say climate justice is a big priority for them.

“Black, immigrant, indigenous and Latinx communities are the most impacted by climate change, and with this program, these same communities learn how to protect homes from extreme weather brought on by climate change,” said Daniel Alvalle, CASA’s Pennsylvania director.

Alvalle said many people CASA works with need help maintaining their homes or face efficiency challenges.

Nationally, home energy use makes up about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions when accounting for indirect emissions from electricity use, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.

Energy efficiency measures are some of the most effective ways to reduce carbon pollution, and they also save people money on their energy bills.

Graduate Zebulun Sweeney said he didn’t think of the environmental aspects of the work until he was in the program.

“It’s good for our planet, it’s good for the people, and that’s a good thing. I don’t like to do jobs with no–I call them soulless jobs, you know, I can feel good about this job right here. This is a fulfilling job,” Sweeney said.

Graduates, instructors, and administrators pose for a group picture after a graduation ceremony.
Jossie Flor Sapunar
Graduates, instructors, and administrators pose for a group picture after a graduation ceremony for the Building Green Futures program in York on April 25, 2024.

The graduates participated in a job fair ahead of the ceremony and some are considering offers.

Jeaneen Zappa, executive director of the Energy Efficiency Alliance, said community partnerships are key to the program.

“Based on our research and consistent experience of partners in this industry, we know the critically missing piece is the front end and the back end. So, recruiting people who might not ever hear about this as a job and then that placement with employers,” Zappa said.

The program was funded through a grant from Met-Ed & Penelec’s Sustainable Energy Fund and federal pass-through money for state weatherization assistance. The money covered tuition, a stipend for students, meals, and support services such as childcare or transportation.

Each graduate earned up to four certificates: a Pennsylvania College of Technology Workforce Development Certificate, an OSHA 10 Construction Certificate, the Building Performance Institute’s Building Science Principles Certificate, and an EPA Lead Paint Renovator Certificate.

Alison Diehl, executive director of the Clean Energy Center at Penn College said they are hoping to adapt and evolve the program so they can reach more people.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.