Coordinators hope the program will meet growing demand for sustainability technicians and become a model for other states.
To get high school students interested in a career in energy management, Roger Ebbage takes students on a tour of their own school. He shows them the building utilities — from the classrooms to the boiler room — and points out how steam boilers, electrical cables and other utilities use energy to heat and power buildings.
Then he takes them to the LEED platinum-certified Serena Williams Building at Nike World Headquarters, and explains how the latest in energy-efficiency controls improves on — and sometimes revolutionizes — the school's design.
Ebbage tells Oregon Business the juxtaposition is often eye-opening.
“It’s usually a big difference because those utilities at the schools are typically pretty old. You get them saying ‘Let’s convert these dodgy old things into this really high-performance stuff,’” he says.
An LCC student works on a computerized controls program. Credit Lane Community College.
Ebbage has served as the program coordinator of Lane Community College’s Energy Management Program since 1992. And now he’s overseeing a Department of Energy-funded program to help students meet the growing demand for energy managers and auditors.
The Western States Building Energy & Controls Apprenticeship Program (BECA) welcomed its first class of students last October. A partnership between Eugene’s Lane Community College and the University of Oregon, the program trains students in the growing field of energy management. It features job placement, pay, and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training during a two-year curriculum.
The program also has larger goals. Coordinators expect the program will cement Oregon’s role as an energy innovator as the program's success — and the growing need for sustainability technicians — convinces other western states to replicate the model.
“This program is unique because in the past the only careers people thought of in the green energy business were mechanical engineers. But you don't need to be a mechanical engineer to understand how a motor is running,” says Ebbage. “Technicians do that. Our program does that.”
Mia Hocking, resource conservation manager for the Hillsboro School District. Credit Mia Hocking
Instead of designing energy-efficient equipment, energy management technicians and energy auditors work to ensure buildings use energy in the most efficient way possible. They make repairs, diagnosing faults, inefficiencies and malfunctions, upgrading to new systems, and keeping abreast of the latest sustainability trends.
Students at LCC pursuing a degree in energy management now have the option to complete the energy management degree only, or participate in BECA along with their degree. The difference is BECA students will obtain 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training along with their academic requirements.
Mia Hocking, resource conservation manager for the Hillsboro School District, said there were no other applicants when she applied for her current job as an internal candidate three years ago, though the job was posted publicly. Hocking served as an office manager before receiving the job offer, and signed up for Ebbage’s energy management program as a way of preparing for her role.
Hocking says that by using computerized energy controls, the 42 buildings she manages (along with a single HVAC technician) have reduced energy consumption by 20-25%. She also installed electric heat and natural gas heat pumps.
Hocking says there is usually enough money to fund energy efficiency projects, and her most persistent challenge is the fact that she is the only one who knows how to operate the energy control system. She says demand for energy management skills will only grow as more organizations install energy control tools.
The pool of applicants for these jobs, she says, still has room to grow.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to do energy efficient work in a lot of different ways. What I do here is not the same thing they do in Portland or Monmouth or Beaverton,” says Hocking. “Students of the program can all walk away in different directions and be very valuable to businesses and still feel like they have a valuable career.”
BECA’s current class has 15 students. But Ebbage says he hopes the program will enroll 20 to 25 students annually once news of the program travels.
During the first year of the program, students learn entirely online. During the second year, students will be managed by the Association of Building Contractors Northwest, which will place them in apprenticeship positions. At the start of their apprenticeship, students will receive 60% of the current average wage for building operators, which will gradually increase to 90% as they complete their training.
According to data from the World Economic Forum, approximately 24 million green economy jobs will be created worldwide by 2030. According to an estimate from sustainable architecture nonprofit Architecture 2030, buildings account for approximately 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Ebbage says the program was originally conceived by faculty at the University of Oregon in response to a 2019 request for a proposal by the Department of Energy aimed at getting more students into careers in energy efficiency.
UO offered the coordinator position to Ebbage, who has run LCC’s energy management program since 1992.
“They handed me a proposal that read, ‘Roger Ebbage Energy Management Program,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I would love to do this with you, but I think it would be more appropriate if (LCC) led and you came in second.’ They said, ‘Great, let’s put something together,’” Ebbage tells OB.
The RFP was successful, in part because the proposal highlighted the program’s ability to be replicated by other public schools in the Western United States and fill a crucial skills gap in the sustainability sector. With federal dollars currently pouring into the sustainable energy projects, Ebbage describes the timing of the programs’ opening as an opportunity to take advantage of the significant infrastructure dollars coming to fund sustainable Oregon projects.
In order to bring students of color and students from rural backgrounds into the program, BECA has partnered with The Energy Trust of Oregon, whose diversity, equity and inclusion program manager is conducting outreach.
Students can expect to pay approximately $12,276 over the course of the two-year program, but the compensation during the second year can help offset the costs. By contrast, UO estimates that a single year of instruction — including $15,054 in tuition, plus books and living expenses — will cost undergraduates who enroll this fall a total of $33,639.
And Ebbage says the job prospects for graduates will be lucrative once they complete their training. Lane Community College currently estimates the average salary of an energy manager at $45,000 annually. Ebbage says that number will likely increase due to rising demand for these positions.
“They’re coming into the workforce with skills that will immediately benefit the employer. They can be put into the work team right away and be productive. If they need to do a lighting audit, they already know how to do that,” says Ebbage.
“For me, this program is a gateway to financial stability,” Jonathan Moysich, one of the 15 students currently taking part in apprenticeship, told OB via email. “A series of unfortunate and tragic setbacks left me in dire circumstances. Completing this degree is a life-changing moment for me.”
Anyone in the United States can apply for the program, though Ebbage admits job placement prospects will probably be higher for students on the West Coast.
Part of the stated goal of the project when it was pitched to the department of energy was to provide a model for other West Coast states to follow. When it comes to training sustainability sector talent, programs like the one at LCC and UO could serve as a guiding light to other states looking to grow their sustainability sectors.
“Our target is the western US including Hawaii and Alaska,” says Ebbage “We are going to take our standard and apply it to the whole western United States.”
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