Thanks to a special partnership with Energy Association of Iowa Schools (EAIS) and Southwestern Community College (SWCC), MEEA awarded 20 Building Operator Certification® (BOC) Certificates to Iowa high school students and staff members this spring through the Building Operator Pathway (BOP) program. Utilizing a combination of classroom work and on-the-job, hands-on experience, the BOP pilot guided students and staff members through a two-year career-oriented training that included the BOC curriculum. For a look back at the formation and structure of this program, read our first blog post on BOP.
BOP participants took BOC classes with MEEA-approved instructors, covering topics on HVAC systems, benchmarking, lighting and more. Many of the BOC instructors who taught the pilot noted that adapting teaching styles for this new audience was a rewarding experience. As one BOC Instructor, Bill Burns, stated, “It was a joy to be teaching in a class setting, albeit online, where the students were seeing the building HVAC equipment for the first time. It was great to see the remarkable mentoring that the facility managers were providing both during the classes and hearing about what they had done on their HVAC systems each week. This program has great potential to start a new generation of building operators/managers.” Additionally, students spent a few days each week working with the school facilities staff members who served as their mentors. During the hands-on sessions, students were able to apply what they learned in the classroom, working in mechanical rooms and operating the equipment they learned about in their BOC classes. As many of the participating school districts are short-staffed, this extra help was mutually beneficial.
Intended to provide a pipeline of skilled workers with energy efficiency experience for Iowa’s workforce, the BOP pilot had a profound impact on many of the students with some noting that the program has altered their career paths and inspired them to go into building operations. For example, several students indicated that they now plan to pursue becoming HVAC technicians, citing job security and earning potential as deciding factors. As one student put it, “This program teaches you skills and gives you opportunities no other class can.” As a testament to the pilot’s success, one of the participating schools hired 2 of their BOP students as full-time staff members. The program also provided the mentors with new expertise, knowledge and professional development as they took the BOC courses alongside their students. Several mentors noted that the program increased their appreciation and respect for teachers and exposed them to new aspects of their profession. Working with the students allowed them to look at their buildings with fresh eyes, as one mentor noted, “It’s nice to see all the things that are possible in a building.”
Students who successfully completed the program earned college credit through SWCC, and in May of 2023, earned a BOC Training Certificate of Completion. In total, 11 students and nine mentors successfully completed the program. Students now have the option to either continue their education or enter the workforce right away with the experiences and expertise they gained through BOP. We wish the students the best of luck as they embark on their next journey.
MEEA is excited to explore additional opportunities to help fill the gap of new entrants to the workforce. In 2024, MEEA will start offering a new training curriculum under the BOC umbrella, Fundamentals of Energy Efficient Building Operations, which provides basic principles of energy efficiency awareness and understanding in commercial and institutional buildings. It is designed for those looking to start a career in building operations and maintenance or individuals just beginning their career. MEEA hopes to partner with Midwest workforce programs to help build up a pipeline of new skilled workers. For more information or partnership opportunities, please contact BOC@mwalliance.org.