For people like Esteban Montero Chacon the ability to take classes completely online made the Energy Management program at Lane Community College possible. When Chacon, who is now Energy Services Division director at Homes for Good in Eugene, took the two-year program, he lived in Costa Rica with his family — making the virtual classroom ideal.
But this year, students have a new option if they want more hands-on experience. A first of its kind in the nation, LCC is offering an apprenticeship program that pairs students with a local employer to gain 2,000 hours of paid experience in the energy management field. The degree program will also see a significant boost in federal funding soon.
To sweeten the deal, the local aspect of the apprenticeship is not necessarily specific to Eugene. Students taking online classes from places such as Florence, Albany, Portland — or even Costa Rica — would be paired with an employer in their hometown.
“Because we try to pay attention to what’s coming, and not what has been, we saw that there was a lot of push towards apprenticeships,” says Roger Ebbage, co-creator of the apprenticeship program and part time LCC faculty member who coordinates the Energy Management and Water Conservation degree programs. “And there will be a lot of push towards clean energy.”
Ebbage co-created the program with Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, director of the University of Oregon’s Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory.
The energy management field revolves around improving energy efficiency and controlling energy usage in buildings. The first can mean auditing residential or commercial buildings for ways energy can be used more efficiently, like modernizing light fixtures and finding places with poor insulation that let heat out. The latter, known as controls, involves controlling the lighting, airflow, heating and cooling and more in buildings. These are the two areas LCC’s Energy Management degree concentrates on.
Ebbage says regardless of what niche one takes in this broad field, the job involves helping with the conservation of energy. Because climate change has put a national focus on creating clean energy, there is a high demand for these jobs, especially in controls, and a starting pay of up to $70,000 a year, he says.
Building owners are wanting to take closer notice of their energy consumption, Ebbage says, but many don’t know how to do so. “They have to find somebody that does, and somebody that can help them reduce their energy output,” Ebbage says. These are the skills that Ebbage teaches in Energy Management classes — and the skills students will put to use in their apprenticeships.
Both Ebbage and Chacon agree that gaining field experience will give students an edge for getting a job. And Chacon says he also believes it will help students figure out what area of energy management they want to pursue.
Chacon went into the Energy Management program wanting to work in commercial buildings, and even without an apprenticeship he realized residential work was his best fit through classes. He says being able to have field experience in a specific job will help allow students a more informed decision on what area they want to be in.
“I think where it will make the biggest difference is in how good of a fit it is,” Chacon says of the different jobs available in the field.
Ebbage also says there is a strong chance students could receive permanent employment from the place they apprenticed. With an 80 percent post-graduation employment rate from the program, Ebbage says he expects the high statistic to transfer to employment after the apprenticeship, assuming the work is done well.
The Energy Management program will soon receive additional funding from President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
According to an explainer on the White House website, the law gives $65 billion in funding towards clean energy transmission and “will fund new programs to support the development, demonstration, and deployment of cutting-edge clean energy technologies” in an effort to create a zero-emission economy.
As Ebbage explains, one of the jobs that qualifies for this funding is energy auditor — exactly what he teaches. He says the program title doesn’t include energy auditing because the degree provides a skill set that is widely applicable, such as to a utility program manager. But the program teaches students to use the critical lens of an energy auditor, which is why it qualifies for funding. “The bottom line is the Biden administration is providing funding for student assistance across the board,” Ebbage says. “For energy auditing, that’s us.”
The only catch is that it’s not yet available.
Ebbage says the federal funding must go through a stage agency, in Oregon’s case the Oregon Department of Energy, and a proposal is still in the works. But once funding is given, students can receive assistance with tuition, fuel to get to class, childcare or anything else the student needs.
While the odds of coming out of the Energy Management program, particularly with an apprenticeship, with a well-paying job are significant, Ebbage and Chacon say the field also offers an opportunity to make a tangible difference in fighting climate change.
“We’re cheap, we’re impactful, employment opportunities are huge,” Ebbage says. “But we have the ability to contribute to saving the human race, literally.”
To find out more, check out the LCC Energy Management-Building Controls website inside.lanecc.edu/science/energy-management-building-controls.