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Weatherization program attracts workers

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A weatherization program in its first year of operation drew interest from some 60 people who attended an orientation session Tuesday at the PA CareerLink-Chester County.

By Connor Showalter

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

OATESVILLE — A weatherization program in its first year of operation drew interest from some 60 people who attended an orientation session Tuesday at the PA CareerLink-Chester County.

The Chester County Opportunities Industrialization Center and the Chester County Workforce Investment Board organized the orientation for the job training in the Weatherization Assistance Program.

The program is managed by the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

Thanks to a funding increase, the program has more job positions available.

Representatives of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology of Lancaster presented information about the program and how it is structured to help reduce energy consumption in low-income households.

"We are getting people trained for an upcoming skill that is going to be in a high-growth area," said program coordinator Ceil Harkness of the Chester County Opportunities Industrialization Center. "I think this is a great, exciting, new program that is being brought to Chester County."

Pennsylvania is "ahead of a lot other states" in terms of administrating a weatherization program, said Corey Andrew, director of weatherization at the college. "So right now we are kind of on the cutting edge."

About 90 percent of low-income households earn less than $15,000 annually and are spending about 10 percent of their annual income on energy, whereas other households spend an average of 3.1 percent, according to the American Gas Association.

"This program is really helping to put money in people's pockets that they can use for other essential goods," said Harkness.

When the average household receives weatherization treatments it saves about 25 percent on their heating bills, according to the association.

The weatherization program evaluates how much energy is used by the eligible households it is assigned to assist. The workers use a blower door to determine where air is being released so they are then able to insulate inefficient areas in the home, according to Andrew.

Job candidates were informed about possible working conditions and the amount of physical labor the weatherization job entails.

"We go to the basement and the attic, those are the two main areas in weatherization that we deal with," said Andrew. "So (the areas) are going to be tight, cramp spaces. We work with a lot of insulation and we work in a lot of dirty and dusty spots."

They were also notified about the type of homes they may encounter during the job.

"We are going in older homes, many of them are in disrepair," Andrew said. "But these are the places that need the most weatherization."

Some candidates said they were concerned about a lack of information pertaining to criminal background check procedures and worker's compensation at the orientation session.

But the Chester County Opportunities Industrialization Center representatives said they would be willing to discuss those matters further with any candidates seeking additional information about the program.

"This program is so new that it is a learning process for all of us," said Lorraine Fillippo, a literacy instructor at the center. "We're trying to decide how to best meet the needs of those who are interested. So I think the collaboration is really going to work for all those involved."

The career path within the weatherization program consists of three levels of certification. The basic level is a weatherization installer, who takes a week of course training for certification, if the training is successfully completed during daytime hours.

"I think it's a good opportunity," said Malik Motley of West Chester, who expressed interest in helping the low-income families through the weatherization program. "I like to help by doing physical construction work."

The program also presented the opportunity for candidates to become crew chiefs, if they complete an extra week of training courses. Further training is required to reach the auditor position, which is highest level of certification.

Training courses will be offered free by the college to job candidates who pass the program's assessments and receive a voucher letter from the state. The Chester County Workforce Investment Board also plans to provide transportation for those qualified candidates.

"We'll be working closely with the employers so as they come out of this training we can transition them and help them find a job," said Harkness.


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