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Case Study - 3 Rivers Clean Energy

3 Rivers Clean Energy is a Southwestern Pennsylvania coalition of companies and organizations interested in developing innovative solutions to the nation's energy needs. With strong support from the Pittsburgh foundation community, the coalition was founded to be a lean, agile, and flexible model for economic development and opportunity brokering in the area of clean energy.

When the opportunity came to start a training-based industry partnership in energy through Pennsylvania’s Job Ready PA program, the existing coalition of employers was well situated to take advantage of that opportunity. They used a first year planning grant to convene a workforce summit and begin to develop a strategy for workforce development in the energy industry. Second year training grant funds were used to launch an industry partnership made up of manufacturers involved in supplying the nuclear energy industry. While quite a diverse set of companies, they generally specialize in making small numbers of very high quality specialty parts, rather than a large number of commodity “widgets.” Initial training grants were used to support consortium members to conduct cross-training and skill-up their incumbent workers in order to take advantage of new equipment and technology advancements in the industry.

Responding to Employer Demand

During the recent economic downturn, training budgets became even tighter, and the incumbent worker grants were key to keeping training programs, particularly in small companies. But the employers saw an even greater opportunity in the group table that was the industry partnership, and asked the conveners to help them understand how to diversify into other growing industries, particularly those in the renewable energy field. The companies already had many of the skills, people and equipment to successfully supply other sectors of the renewable energy industry, but were unsure how to proceed when “they weren’t even sure what all the words meant.”

While this work was not directly supportable through the Industry Partnership funding, 3 Rivers Clean Energy was able to return to its foundation partners for additional funding, and has since held several workshops to develop employers’ knowledge and understanding of opportunities in the fields of wind energy, solar energy, fabricating and machining, and nuclear energy. These opportunities for concentrated learning have attracted a lot of interest; the first workshop, a half-day session led by Great Lakes Wind Network, attracted over 200 people.

“You need to give employers value to get them engaged. Especially this past year, when budgets were so tight the CEOs were out driving trucks. You have to give them value – or at least hope. The learning workshops were that hope.”

Adding New Sectors

Based on their success working with the manufacturing employers involved in the energy industry supply chain, 3 Rivers began a second industry partnership to respond to the needs of the emerging Home Energy Performance industry. They worked with a group of 25 small, mostly start-up, firms to form an industry association and broker training opportunities and funding. When the state was looking to set standards for the industry pertaining to energy audits and weatherization, 3 Rivers was able to facilitate connections between the trade association leadership and the state to ensure that the industry was represented in stakeholder meetings and legislative sessions pertaining to those standards. This group of employers has used the training consortium model extensively for incumbent workers covered by the industry partnership funding, and 3 Rivers has helped the group write an application for an additional training grant to provide ramp-up training through a just-in-time training system developed with a community college partner. The companies hope to received funding to train and place 60-100 workers.

Elements of Success

The clean or renewable energy field is a crowded one right now. And in an industry where many training programs have a hard time placing their students, the presence of a group of employers connected to the program and committed to hiring is compelling and contributes to its success. The industry partnerships within the 3 Rivers Clean Energy coalition have a very synergistic relationship with the broader coalition –the strong foundation support of the overall initiative allows it to respond to non-training needs of the industry partnership, while the industry partnerships provide an opportunity to “test drive” ideas with a real group of employers.

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