Episode 415: Registered Apprenticeship Programs in the Clean Energy Sector With Dr. Janell Hills

Summary:In this episode, we interview Dr. Janell Hills from IREC about developing registered apprenticeship programs in the clean energy sector.

Episode 415: Registered Apprenticeship Programs in the Clean Energy Sector With Dr. Janell Hills

Summary:In this episode, we interview Dr. Janell Hills from IREC about developing registered apprenticeship programs in the clean energy sector.

Table of Contents

The impacts of the Inflation Reduction Act go far beyond growing clean energy. It’s also a massive job creator. These measures are expected to grow the broader clean energy industry by around 9 million jobs. That’s a lot of jobs. For the industry specifically, SEIA estimates that IRA will create an additional 200,000 jobs by 2032. To put that in context, the National Solar Jobs Census that IREC published has shown that as of last year, our whole industry currently employs 255,000 people, so we’re expected to more than double total industry employment in the next ten years.

Episode 415: Registered Apprenticeship Programs in the Clean Energy Sector With Dr. Janell Hills

Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrill, founder of Workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, HR and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:18.61] This episode of the Workology Podcast is part of a podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, or PIA. PIA is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy or ODEP. In November of 2020, ODEP launched PIA to ensure all apprenticeship programs are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. PIA collaborates with employers and apprenticeship programs to help meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to benefit from apprenticeships that increase their opportunities for lifelong access to high-growth, high-demand jobs. Before I introduce our guest today, I do want to hear from you. Please comment “PODCAST” on my pinned post on Instagram. It’s @JMillerMerrell. You can ask questions, leave comments and make suggestions for future guests. Comment the word “PODCAST” on my Instagram post @JMillerMerrell. It’s the one of me looking like I’m on a podcast, so leave a comment there. I want to hear from you. Today. I’m so excited to be joined by Dr. Janell Hills, Director of Equitable Workforce Strategies for the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, or IREC. She has 15 years of experience in higher education and 12 years of experience in grant administration, including development, implementation and management. Dr. Hills has developed work based learning and apprenticeship programs for innovative occupations such as pharmacy technician, information technology, and also has had the opportunity to enhance a plumber’s apprenticeship program by adding digital plumbing layout design equipment for course implementation. Very cool. Dr. Hills is an enthusiastic leader who is passionate about education and workforce equity. I’m so excited to welcome Dr. Hills to the Workology Podcast.

Dr. Janell Hills: [00:03:10.07] Thank you. Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:13.88] Let’s jump right in and talk a little bit about your background. What led you to your current role as the Director of Equitable Workforce Strategies at IREC?

Dr. Janell Hills: [00:03:24.31] Wow. My, my work with IREC really occurred by happenstance. Once I completed my doctoral degree in 2020, I was in the market for a career change, and a colleague happened to run across a job posting for IREC and passed it along to me. Um, that, that didn’t happen in 2020 because as we know, the global pandemic struck the world and everything shut down. Um, but it did happen in 2021. IREC was interested in developing clean energy registered apprenticeship programs. And I felt like the job description was a good fit based on my career experience. However, like many minorities, I did not know much about the clean energy industry. I did a lot of research on the organization, on the industry, and I thought it would be a good opportunity that would allow for career growth and advancement. Uh, one of the resources, one of the resources that really drew me to the organization was the career maps. So, um, I, I would admonish you all to go take a look at those if you have not. Fast forward to multiple interviews. I landed the job, and I have not looked back.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:04:46.45] I love that. And, and we’re going to include a link to the career maps in the resources section of this particular podcast interview. But there is so much more that we want to talk about today. Can you tell us why it’s so important to develop registered apprenticeship programs in the clean energy sector for people from underrepresented and underserved communities?

Dr. Janell Hills: [00:05:10.18] Yes. Absolutely. One of my favorite topics. So the Interstate Renewable Energy Council published the Solar Job Census, and in that census, it was found that 89% of solar employers reported that it was somewhat or very difficult to fill their job openings. 49% of those respondents cited the small applicant pool as the most significant reason for their hiring challenges. We do not have the workforce to fill the jobs, and if something does not change, Jessica, we will continue to have more work than employees. There are a number of reasons why the hiring pool has not kept pace with available job opportunities. Lack of awareness about opportunities for family, supporting innovative careers in solar and other clean energy fields is a top barrier. And even where awareness exists, um, or interest exists, the pathways into the solar industry are not clearly defined or widely promoted. To take this a step further, potential workers have difficulty consistently identifying credible information about training and jobs. Additional barriers exist and must be overcome to include underrepresented and underserved populations in the solar industry. In 2021, women made up just under 30% of solar employees, well below their 47% representation in the overall U.S. workforce, and black employees made up only 8% of the solar workforce, compared to their 12% representation in the national workforce. To build the future of the clean energy workforce, we cannot continue to overlook these communities. In order to both fill the jobs we need and take an equitable approach to diversifying the workforce, we need a strategy to do so, and, as an industry, we need to provide equitable and clear pathways for underserved, underrepresented and marginalized communities. We have an opportunity for the clean energy sector to create a more just society, and that’s what we need to focus on, providing these opportunities to the communities that have historically been left out of this industry.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:49.33] Well, I absolutely love the work that you’re doing and the focus in clean energy, because I think this really can be a model for other industries and areas.

Dr. Janell Hills: [00:08:02.23] Absolutely.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:03.61] What role does IREC play in developing registered apprenticeship programs in the clean energy sector for individuals in these communities?

Dr. Janell Hills: [00:08:11.86] The Interstate Renewable Energy Council has been contracted by the U.S. Department of Labor to serve as an intermediary, an industry intermediary, to support the expansion of registered apprenticeships in the clean energy industry. We received this contract, um, approximately, give or take, in July of 2023 and, through the Apprenticeships in Clean Energy Network, uh, which we affectionately call the ACE network, IREC and our partner organizations are conducting outreach and education, delivering no cost technical assistance and providing limited financial assistance to help clean energy employers, training providers, and other stakeholders navigate the apprenticeship system and process, to be able to implement these apprenticeship training programs. So we are not a sponsor. IREC is not a sponsor, but we’re helping sponsors stand up their apprenticeship programs by providing that technical assistance that may be needed, um, for employers to embrace registered apprenticeship programs.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:24.69] Amazing. I love hearing about how you’re supporting, because we have heard more about sponsors, but I think it’s interesting your role and how, hopefully, it will positively impact the, the available talent in the solar and renewable energy space.

Dr. Janell Hills: [00:09:43.56] Absolutely. And the financial assistance, um, piece that I mentioned, that’s incentive funding for employers to receive for the apprentices they hire. So it’s a, it’s a really great program to allow or to, to help walk the employers through the process so that they can one, better understand registered apprenticeship programs and all of the benefits the programs provide, not only to employers but to apprentices as well. So it’s a great opportunity.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:10:19.44] Talk to us a little bit about the Green Connect program, also known as GreenWorkforceConnect.org that IREC recently launched.

Dr. Janell Hills: [00:10:27.66] Yes. Green Workforce Connect, such an exciting project. It’s IREC’s new workforce strategy. It is a new collaboration from IREC and our partners to raise awareness of the weatherization careers and connect job seekers, students and contractors to local training providers and employers. As the industry grows, Green Workforce Connect aims to hire a new generation of home energy professionals. Led in collaboration with partners, this project includes an interactive online platform, a multimedia outreach campaign and toolkit, and a guide for contractors. Users can also explore detailed information on various roles, which is a, is a great resource. Real career stories. Real life career stories, a career fit, a quiz to help you understand what, um, weatherization role may be best for you. Blog posts, template job descriptions for organizations to use, and a way for job seekers to connect directly to organizations that are hiring. This is not a traditional board. It offers really compelling and extensively vetted information about why weatherization matters and how the job roles are laid out, and much more. This platform was designed with the end user in mind, and one thing that I would like to point out is IREC realized that it was important to build a space of inclusion for minorities to be seen, for their voices to be heard, and for representation to be depicted in Green Workforce Connect. In order to accomplish this, we convened an advisory group. This advisory group reflected the audience of the platform, which is why I stated that the platform was designed with the end user in mind. The advisory group helped develop messaging for different audiences. They reviewed project content, provided insight into how to reach diverse audiences, and they were really very, they were very much a part of the launch of Green Workforce Connect. Quite frankly, some of these conversations were tough because we missed the mark a few times, but, with inclusion and a sense of belonging that was created, the advisory group achieved what they set out to achieve, and they really assisted in developing what we know as Green Workforce Connect today.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:22.25] Amazing. I feel like this is a “how to”, like this question, let’s just pull it out and say, like, if you are thinking about building a talent community and an employer branding strategy to reach and connect with qualified applicants, you really have to do the work to understand and hear from who those people are so that you can really connect with them and build those relationships to attract them to your organization, or in this case, your sector.

Dr. Janell Hills: [00:13:50.24] Yes. Great summary, Jessica. Absolutely.

Break: [00:13:55.25] Let’s take a reset here. This is Jessica Miller-Merrill and you are listening to the Workology Podcast. Today we are talking with Dr. Janell Hills, Director of Workforce Programs for the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, or IREC. This podcast is part of our podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship Programs, or PIA. Please comment “PODCAST”. Go to my Instagram and comment the word “PODCAST” on my pinned post. It’s @JMillerMerrell and let me know what questions, suggestions or ideas you have for future podcast guests. I want to hear from you.

Break: [00:14:31.70] This episode of the Workology podcast is part of a new podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, or PIA. PIA is funded by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP. ODEP launched PIA to ensure all apprenticeship programs are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. PIA collaborates with employers and apprenticeship programs to help meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to benefit from apprenticeships that increase their opportunities for lifelong access to high-growth, high-demand jobs.

Ensuring Inclusive And Accessible Opportunities 

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:08.03] How do you ensure that the opportunities you help create are inclusive and accessible to everyone?

Dr. Janell Hills: [00:15:13.88] Wow. I think that starts at the organization level. IREC’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Strategic Plan builds upon and advances our commitment into an interwoven strategy aligned with the mission and vision of the organization. DEIA is critical to the success of IREC and all the communities we serve, and we recognize that our commitment to DEIA is a critical part to accomplishing our mission and vision toward a 100% clean energy future that is reliable, resilient, and equitable. This work is not project specific. IREC ensures that the organization as a whole embraces the DEIA work that we’re doing. Um, I used to use DEIA initiatives, but I don’t use the word initiatives anymore because we have really woven this strategy throughout all programs through the organization. And that’s how we help, um, to create an inclusive and accessible opportunity for everyone.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:27.50] Can you talk to us about the requirements regarding apprenticeship contained within the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA and, and maybe how this will impact the clean energy work related to the infrastructure?

Dr. Janell Hills: [00:16:40.52] Absolutely. Last summer, Congress passed the historic Inflation Reduction Reduction Act with climates and decarbonization provisions that will fundamentally change the way America generates energy and the way we do business. The impacts of the Inflation Reduction Act go far beyond growing clean energy. It’s also a massive job creator. These measures are expected to grow the broader clean energy industry by around nine million jobs. That’s a lot of jobs. For the industry specifically, SEIA estimates that IRA will create an additional 200,000 jobs by 2032. To put that in context, the National Solar Jobs Census that I referenced earlier that IREC published has shown that, as of last year, our whole industry currently employs 255,000 people, so we’re expected to more than double total industry employment in the next ten years. In addition to the quantity of anticipated jobs, IRA, Inflation Reduction Act, we’re calling it IRA, also includes provision for the quality of the new jobs by integrating labor standards, such as apprenticeship programs and prevailing wage requirements, which are now required to access the maximum tax incentive for the solar projects greater than one megawatt.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:19.10] I love hearing about how the industry is changing and growing, and all the work that IREC and the entire industry in renewable is really taking a unique approach to this, and especially in the area of apprenticeships, because I think we often think of apprenticeships as entry level programs. But what I’m hearing is, is that’s not always the case, am I right?

Dr. Janell Hills: [00:18:44.81] Yes. You’re absolutely correct. No, apprenticeships, um, are more than just entry level occupations. I love registered apprenticeship programs. I’ve been working, um, in developing registered apprenticeship programs since the first round of funding that came out in 2015 from the Department of Labor for registered apprenticeship programs. But, apprenticeships span more than 1000 occupations across the various industries, including healthcare, cybersecurity, information technology, and energy. The Department of Labor has a great tool called the Apprenticeship Finder, and a job seeker can plug in an occupation, whether it’s entry-level or mid-level or advanced-level, and find what’s available in their area. There are managerial apprenticeship roles. There are computer hardware, hardware engineer apprenticeship roles, financial manager apprenticeship roles. So, it’s, there are many opportunities in registered apprenticeship and it’s really a great tool. So, it’s called the Apprenticeship Finder. And you can plug in your area of interest and see what’s available in your prospective area.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:12.92] I love it, and there’s even HR apprenticeship programs, which I think is amazing. So it’s really unlimited in terms of the opportunities. We’ll include a link to the Apprenticeship Finder as well as GreenWorkforceConnect.org, because I really think that for inspiration and education, it’s a place that you should check out as you’re thinking about building out your talent development programs, maybe bringing in an apprenticeship program, and/or if you’re maybe interested in making a switch over to the renewable energy sector as an HR leader.

Dr. Janell Hills: [00:20:47.57] Yes. That’s great, and thank you for including those links. I think that’ll be really helpful to the listeners.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:53.93] Of course. Well, Dr. Janell Hills, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. IREC is doing really innovative things that I haven’t seen in a lot of other industries before, and it’s exciting to hear the passion in your voice, and I can’t wait to catch up with you again to see what you’re working on next time!

Dr. Janell Hills: [00:21:14.21] Yes, so many exciting things. I look forward to the next conversation.

Closing: [00:21:19.43] Thank you so much. Apprenticeships, specifically those that are inclusive and accessible, are key to closing the skills gap and supporting the talent shortage in sectors like clean energy. In the growing industry of solar energy, registered apprenticeships can benefit both companies and program participants. Dr. Janell Hills really filled us in on all that, and I really think it’s a model for so many of the rest of us who are looking for ways to build relationships and support employees of all areas, including those underrepresented minority groups. Awareness of apprenticeship programs, and the work that IREC is doing in the renewable energy industry can be a big challenge. So, please share the links to this podcast episode and check out all the amazing resources that are provided for us today. I really appreciate Dr. Hills sharing her expertise and experience with us today. Before I leave you today, I want to say thank you for joining the Workology Podcast and thank you to PIA, our podcast sponsor. They help power this specific episode. If you are interested in chatting with me and you have ideas for new podcast guests, comments, just suggestions on maybe future episodes, head on over to my Instagram. It’s @JMillerMerrell . Look for the pinned Instagram post. It’s me looking like I’m talking on a podcast because I am, and comment the word “PODCAST”, and you can leave any questions or suggestions there. I look forward to chatting with you. Have a great day and we’ll see you next time on the Workology Podcast.

Connect with Dr. Janell Hills.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

 – Dr. Janell Hills on LinkedIn

– Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship

 – PIA’s Clean Energy Spotlight 

 – Greenworkforceconnect.org

 – Green Buildings Career Map

 – Apprentice Finder

– Episode 394: How Accommodations Benefit Everyone in the Organization With Emma Maclean & Marie Trudelle

– Episode 390: Enhancing the Workplace With Neurodiversity With Dr. Scott Robertson, ODEP- 

– Episode 402: The Benefits Of Apprenticeships To Employers And Underrepresented Workers With Donna Lenhoff

 – Episode 408: How the Blind Institute of Tech Helps Salesforce Meet Hiring Needs with Apprenticeships

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