Apr 15, 2023
A 3-Phase Approach to Solving Staffing Issues for Community Action Agencies in Illinois
The Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program Community Action Agency (CAA) Channel Weatherization Supplemental Staffing Initiative is in response to the Community Action Agencies across the state of Illinois expressing a need for support in identifying qualified applicants and additional funding to hire and train staff due to attrition.
By: Diana Fuller
Abstract: The Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program Community Action Agency (CAA) Channel Weatherization Supplemental Staffing Initiative is in response to the Community Action Agencies across the state of Illinois expressing a need for support in identifying qualified applicants and additional funding to hire and train staff due to attrition. The new implementor for this Channel, Walker-Miller Energy Services, recommended a three-phased pilot approach.
Phase 1 utilizes existing qualified cross-program staff to provide additional assessment and inspection capacity where Agency staffing is a barrier to success.
Phase 2 utilizes a partnership with the Illinois Association of Community Action Agencies (IACAA) and involves the recruitment and hiring of dedicated program staff to provide additional short-term capacity to select Agencies.
Phase 3 utilizes a partnership between the Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) to develop a qualified staffing pipeline for permanent placement at Agencies where staffing continues to be a barrier to success.
In 2021, the Illinois Association of Community Action Agencies conducted a survey that revealed 16 out of the 22 Agencies in the Ameren Illinois service territory were expecting to hire new staff for positions that were currently open. An additional 10 Agencies reported hiring due to an increase in demand and funding. Furthermore, Agencies need assistance finding qualified applicants for assessors, final inspectors and office support.
Walker-Miller Energy Services confirmed the findings during the discovery sessions held with the Agencies at the end of 2021 into 2022. Walker-Miller Energy Services recommended the Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program sponsor Community Action Agency weatherization to assist with identifying, hiring, and training qualified staff to assist Agencies.
DCEO welcomed the opportunity for staff to complete the 10-week Training and Certification Program (TCP) funded by DCEO.
IACAA views this strategy as a win as it speaks directly to the needs of the Agencies identified in the capacity survey.
Ameren Illinois Market Development Initiative (MDI) leadership team described this strategy as a turnkey solution offering positive impacts to several initiatives within the Ameren Illinois service territory and the Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program.
Phase 1 utilized the existing qualified cross-programmatic staff from the Home Efficiency Income Qualified (HEIQ) Initiative within the Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program. The staff that perform these tasks in the HEIQ Initiative and CAA Channel are certified in Building Envelope and Quality Control Inspection by the Building Performance Institute (BPI). The differentiator lies in the fact that the staff in the HEIQ Initiative are managed through its implementor, Walker-Miller Energy Services, and the CAA Channel staff are retained and managed by each individual Community Action Agency. The partnership was over a period of five months from February 2022 to June 2022. The HEIQ Assessor is now uniquely trained for both HEIQ and CAA Channel.
The partnership with DCEO and Walker-Miller Energy Services supported the funding for Phase 1. DCEO grants fund TCP training and travel costs through the Agency training and technical assistance fund. Walker-Miller Energy Services funded the cost for salaries and travel during the weeks they were not in TCP training.
Two Agencies participated. Madison County Community Development and C.E.F.S., which serves the counties of Christian, Clay, Effingham, Fayette, Montgomery, Moultrie and Shelby. Madison County Community Development found the pilot to offer little benefit. The challenges included incomplete documentation, inexperience with the WeatherWorks system, poor communication and little time at the Agency. The Assessor was able to complete three assessments and a camera was provided to aid documentation.
C.E.F.S. participated because the Agency was left short-handed due to medical reasons. The Agency found the pilot beneficial as it provided the Agency with the trained staff needed to fill in and complete assessments without the need for additional time for training and monitoring.
The pilot needs to improve communication between the Agency and the Assessor regarding scheduling assessments and provide training for the documentation process. Assessors need more time training to use WeatherWorks. Finally, increase the time Assessors spend at any one Agency to learn internal operations.
The foundation of Phase 2 is the recruitment and hiring of dedicated Channel staff employed by IACAA. One Assessor is hired for each region. The Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program and Walker-Miller Energy Services collaborated to assist IACAA in filling these roles through the Ameren Illinois MDI Workforce Development Program. This partnership ensures qualified local and diverse candidates were considered and met the needs of the overall Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program.
The design consists of each Assessor being dispatched to Agencies in need of staffing assistance, including a remote option to minimize travel time. The assessors also obtain or have Quality Control Inspector (QCI) credentials and are enrolled in TCP training.
The selection of participating Agencies was based on responses to questions regarding the weatherization budget across multiple funding sources, current staffing level, pending staffing changes, progress toward production goals and Agency request for assistance. Project plans were developed which included projected production impact, work scope for the Assessor including WeatherWorks, data entry, energy assessments, QCI inspections, contractor management, procurement and time commitment. The assistance was provided to the Agencies at no cost. The Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program is funding this phase through Program underspend.
IACAA purchased vehicles and equipment for each Assessor. The equipment purchased included: blower door kit with manometer, flue gas analyzer/printer, infrared camera, RKI gas monitor kit, pressure pans, exhaust fan flow meter, ladder and small hand tools.
The lessons learned for round one of this pilot include the Agency and Assessors involved in the ordering process. IACAA had to create a new car policy and has regular communication with Assessors and Agencies. It is to the benefit of the partnership that all parties are flexible to meet the needs of the partners involved.
Each Agency that participating has the Assessor for a period of three months minimum. The first round included Champaign County Regional Planning Commission (CCPRC) and St. Clair County. CCRPC was two months out from losing its coordinator and in the middle of rebuilding when the IACAA Assessor joined the Agency. The Assessor assisted with 20 assessments, final inspections, home checks and a multifamily assessment. The Assessor also experienced a deferral due to health and safety issues and assisted with the contractor procurement process.
CCRPC shared that it would be helpful to have secure access to the Agency network remotely for documentation purposes. Now the Assessor will move on to Sangamon County and complete for the requirements for Energy Auditor and Quality Control Inspector.
St. Clair County decided to participate because it was an opportunity for the Agency to receive additional assistance. The IACAA Assessor was able to assist with 30 assessments. The Assessor gained exposure to in-progress work, final inspections, deferral checks and completed two assessments in WeatherWorks.
The Agency learned that utilizing a camera will assist with documentation and will start the process for WeatherWorks access early. The Assessor will move on to completing the credentials for Energy Advisor and Quality Control Inspector. The Assessor will onboard with Bond, Clinton, Marion and Washington (BCMW) Community Action Agency.
Phase 3 highlights the partnership between the Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program and DCEO. The purpose of this is to increase the capacity of field staff and to increase participation in braided IHWAP projects. The goals include: a full-time, paid partnership opportunity to individuals through Community Action Agencies and creating a long-term pipeline of candidates. The Agencies participate in the recruitment process and candidates are eligible for permanent employment at the end of one year.
The recruitment included Community Action Agency Channel staff, Solutions for Energy Efficiency Logistics (SEEL) and the Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program Market Development Initiative. The Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Program is sponsoring 18 individuals at $18,000 each. DCEO grant funding for IHWAP also supports the cost for recruitment, salaries, BPI and TCP training, transportation and lodging.
Seven agencies are participating and four have completed placements. This pilot has developed 13 new partnerships yielding a pipeline of qualified candidates and opportunities for engagement to students and community groups. There are challenges to placing returning citizens, recruiting in rural areas and hiring multiple assessors at one agency due to space and capacity. Some agencies are also in a rebuilding phase and need immediate assistance from formerly trained Assessors and final inspectors.
The apprenticeship model was considered. However, the partners declined this model due to a lack of alignment in funding requirements, leads and alignment with target clients, weatherization and the focus on training where an apprenticeship results in a certificate that can serve as the foundation toward a degree.
The Supplemental Staffing Pilots have demonstrated success in increasing the production capacity by utilizing qualified cross-program staff. Furthermore, the recruitment and hiring of two dedicated Channel staff employed by IACAA has been beneficial to the Agencies that have completed Phase 1 of the pilot. Finally, the partnership model is increasing the Agencies’ staffing capacity for Assessors and building partnerships that support a pipeline of candidates available to the Agencies.
Diana Fuller and Nick Lovier will be presenting on this topic at the National Home Performance Conference & Trade Show in Seattle, WA on Thursday, April 20. Learn more here.
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