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Updated: October 13, 2021

Maine's clean-energy companies see plenty of demand — but need workers

8 people in screenshot Screenshot Courtesy / E2Tech Business owners Scott Libby and Richard Burbank, center-right and bottom-right, said a unified approach to workforce development would be useful for recruitment as demand for clean-energy services grows.

The labor shortage is hitting Maine’s clean-energy sector hard, creating backlogs of work as businesses scramble to meet growing demand.

Royal River Heat Pumps in Freeport is seeing so much interest in its products that lead time for the company's initial home consultations is now 10 to 12 weeks, up from four or five weeks. 

“That emphasizes the need and where I need to be hiring and putting more vehicles on the road,” said CEO Scott Libby. 

The problem is finding employees.

“Recruitment has been a challenge,” said Richard Burbank, CEO and founder of another clean-energy company, Evergreen Home Performance in Rockland.

The two business owners spoke during an E2Tech webinar last week called “What Works: Building a Clean Energy Workforce.”

The webinar focused on weatherization and HVAC companies as keys to meeting Maine's renewable energy goals — 80% renewable energy by 2030, and 100% for 2050 — considered some of the most aggressive in the country. 

Increase clean-energy jobs

One of those goals is to increase clean-energy jobs in Maine to 30,000 by 2030.

Efforts are underway across state agencies and the Maine Community College System to strategically tackle workforce development issues.

Burbank and Libby expressed enthusiasm about a unified approach toward workforce development to fulfill emerging demand for HVAC and weatherization services. Both CEOs indicated they’re eager to build partnerships with government leaders, community groups and other employers to strengthen workforce development opportunities. 

E2Tech is a member-based organization focused on energy solutions. E2Tech members, who span the clean tech and sustainability industry, have themselves been working to meet those goals by building training programs, supporting small business development, advancing policy or regulatory solutions, and exploring other innovative approaches. 

“One objective today is improve awareness of needs and resources for workforce development,” said moderator Paul Williamson, head of development in New England for New York City-based Walden Renewables and a vice president at Maine Renewable Energy Association.

Before 2020, there were about 14,000 clean-energy jobs in Maine. The state’s goal is to more than double the workforce, creating an additional 16,000 jobs by 2030.

The challenge, said Walden, is to identify where the workers will come from and how they’ll be trained. 

Training workers

Burbank said he started the company in 2006 but quickly ran into issues finding enough workers to fulfill demand to weatherize homes, which was growing in part because of Efficiency Maine programs that highlighted the importance of weatherization.

By 2009, it became easier to find workers due to the economic downturn and drop-off in construction, which meant more available employees. When the economy picked up, finding employees became more difficult again.

The company has used private and public funding sources to grow, he said, but has had to rely on its own resources to train workers.

Government programs help stimulate demand for clean-energy services, but clean-energy businesses are struggling to grow to the same level, according to Burbank.

“Our business is really eager to add workforce to partner with all the programs to expand weatherization in Maine,” he said. “It’s just been really, really challenging to fill out our workforce needs.”

Busy running the business

Libby started his company about nine years ago. Like others in the trades, he said, he’s often too busy running the business to find time to use workforce development resources. 

“It’s kind of like you can’t see the forest because of the trees,” he said. 

Royal River has about 45 employees. That’s a good number, but “I would hire more in a minute,” Libby added. 

The company has had a lot of success working with community colleges and technical schools to recruit employees, he said. It’s also in the process of creating an in-house training center to focus specifically on heat pumps for several purposes — to train beginners, for continuing education and to use as a recruitment tool.

Libby said he envisions the center as a tool to attract younger people, employees from other industries and some people from out of state.

But in today’s tight labor market, he said, hiring experienced people often means they’re coming from other companies. 

“That’s great for my business but not for the overall picture of achieving the governor’s clean energy goals,” Libby said. “It’s just shifting installers from one company to another.”

He’s taken additional tacks to improve recruitment. They include shifting up his want ads to promote how great it is to live in Maine and creating an “a la carte” benefits package that allow employees to choose, for example, what type of retirement plan they want.

Unified approach

Both company owners indicated a need for a unified approach that would make workforce development resources easily accessible to all business owners. 

To that end, Martha Bentley, director of economic development coordination at the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, said help is on the way through the  $1.13 billion Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan. It's the discretionary portion of the $4.5 billion Maine is getting from the American Recovery Plan. 

Earmarks for the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan include job creation and training and support for small business and startups; clean energy is one of the targeted sectors.

The Mills administration “is foot to the pedal working on how to get that money out the door in an effective way,” said Bentley.

As part of that effort, the state's Department of Economic and Community Development and Department of Labor have been holding listening sessions to identify strategic investments. 

“One of the biggest tricks is helping people when they’re so busy running their own businesses, navigating and figuring out, ‘What are the top three things that I should do right now?’” Bentley said.

Bentley and others cited a number of employment resources, including MDOL’s CareerCenter website, with a variety of employment and training services at no charge for Maine workers and businesses, the CareerCenter employer guideMaine Resource Compass for entrepreneurs and innovators, and an employer hub created by the city of Portland’s Office of Economic Opportunity. Bentley said the state is looking at developing a single portal with all available resources for employers and employees.

Community colleges

Elizabeth Fortin, dean of workforce training and professional development at Kennebec Valley Community College, said the community college system is also well positioned to create training programs based on specific company needs.

“We have that flexibility to be really quick to set something up specific to a company’s learning objectives,” said Fortin.

“I am extremely excited and encouraged with all the resources to help with workforce,” said Burbank. “It’s exciting — but we need workers to apply. And we need money to help cover the growth.”

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Martin Grohman Grohman
October 14, 2021

Thank you Mainebiz for the excellent coverage. We are hosting a follow up discussion on Thursday the 21st at noon, see our website at for details.

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