The clean energy industry is “maturing” in Vermont, according to officials, but it’s also being affected by the state’s overall struggle to attract workers.
The 2019 Vermont Clean Energy Report was released Monday by the Department of Public Service (DPS). It was written by BW Research Partnership Inc., under commission from the Clean Energy Development Fund, which is part of DPS.
Andrew Perchlik, director of the Clean Energy Development Fund, said Monday the partnership surveyed companies in the clean energy industry and consulted with numerous state agencies for its data.
Among the report’s findings are that Vermont has the highest rate of per capita clean energy employment at 5.7%. And while the clean energy industry intends to grow its workforce in 2019 by 5%, it may have trouble doing so.
“Employers in the clean energy industry are optimistic about Vermont’s 2019 workforce growth,” reads the report, which says a 5% increase would mean about 1,000 workers. “However, based upon the difficulties with hiring cited by employers again this year, doing so may prove to be a challenge.”
Vermont’s unemployment rate in April was 2.2%, said Mat Barewicz, labor market information director of the Vermont Department of Labor. That’s the lowest it’s been since 1976, when modern methods of tracking the rate were implemented, he said. The national average was 3.6% for April and May.
It’s a commonly held belief that the lower the unemployment rate is, the better things are, but Barewicz said this isn’t necessarily the case. An extremely low unemployment rate indicates not so much an abundance of jobs, but a decline in workers. Barewicz said it’s believed that a 5% rate is best, leaving a balance between workers wanting jobs and employers having enough labor to grow.
Barewicz said with rates at this level, some companies may find it difficult to not only grow, but remain the same size, as it’s harder to replace retiring workers or ones leaving the area.
The Clean Energy Report looks at the state of the clean energy industry, but each report has explored or expanded on a different area, said Perchlik.
“This year, we looked at workforce development,” he said, in part because many other agencies in Vermont were having similar conversations about the unemployment rate.
Perchlik said the clean energy industry’s workforce woes mirror the challenges faced by every other industry in Vermont. He said 47% of clean energy employers reported their biggest problem with labor is that applicants lack the necessary qualifications, skills and training. He said many of the open jobs are technical in nature and require more specialized skills. Employers also say they’re having trouble finding people with even basic work skills, according to Perchlik.
Ken Jones, economic research analyst for the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said Monday the state has essentially two approaches to the workforce problem: using the Vermont Talent Pipeline Management program to boost the skills of workers already here, and the Remote Worker Grant Program, the latter of which was expanded by the Legislature this year.
The Clean Energy Report wasn’t all about struggles. The number of clean energy establishments grew by 2% over last year to 3,678. The industry has a total of 18,900 workers, about 6% of all workers in the state, according to the report’s key findings.
What’s surprising about the data is the “maturity” of the workforce, said Perchlik. By that he means the number of full-time workers, which grew to 14,500 since 2017, when it was at 12,000.
Perchlik said that in years past, many contractors who reported working in the clean energy field often had other contracting work not related to clean energy. Demand in that field has grown, he said, to where many now work exclusively in clean energy.
He said the annual Clean Energy Reports are used by many people, legislators among them. He said he’s not currently worried that the workforce issues will derail the state’s renewable energy goals, but if the problem persists into the future, it may slow things down some.
The current and past reports can be found at https://bit.ly/2Wt5Dbd.
BARRE — A “March for Medicaid” drew more than 100 people to the Granite City on Saturday to protest threats to the national medical benefits program.
Organized by the Vermont Workers’ Center in Barre, the “Healthcare is a Human Right” campaign march began at noon at the First Presbyterian Church on Seminary Street and proceeded down Main Street to City Hall Park for a rally. Along the way, the marchers chanted, banged drums, played musical instruments and carried banners and placards.
Founded in 1998, the Vermont Workers’ Center is an organization of low-income and working people with active members across the state dedicated to socioeconomic issues that threaten benefits and programs for Vermonters.
The Healthcare is a Human Right campaign is fighting efforts by the Trump Administration to destabilize the Medicaid program by offering block grant funding to states that also have work requirements to qualify for benefits, as well as other eligibility hurdles that have led to thousands of Medicaid recipients losing benefits in Missouri, Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas in the last year, according to Vermont Workers’ Center officials. One in three Vermonters rely on Medicaid and Medicaid-funded services in the state, they added.
According to Keith Brunner, one of the organizers of Saturday’s march, the campaign is also calling for the Vermont Legislature to revive Act 48, a successful 2011 campaign by the Vermont Workers’ Center and other groups for the first statewide universal, publicly funded health care system called Green Mountain Care. In 2014, former Gov. Peter Shumlin abandoned the plan, citing the taxes required of smaller businesses within the state to fund it.
Will Bennington, a farmer from Plainfield, and Amy Lester, of Adamant, were the masters of ceremonies at the rally and welcomed the many supporting nonprofit, union and interfaith groups supporting Medicaid benefit recipients.
“I’m marching today because I, like so many other farmers and farm workers in the state, work my butt off and cannot afford health care,” Bennington said. “If it were not for Medicaid, I would never go to the doctor or the dentist.”
Beth Clark, of Barre, said she and several relatives all had health care issues and had to pay for out-of-pocket expenses not covered by medical benefits. Likewise, Maurica Villines, of Springfield, said she was a single mother with two children that struggled to meet family medical expenses.
Lorri Demers, who is homeless and living at the Good Samaritan Haven shelter in Barre, said she had struggled for two months after moving to Barre to get Medicaid benefits to help cover the cost of quarterly checkups on her defibrillator for a heart condition.
“Without my Medicaid, I would not be able to have my defibrillator checked every three months, so that’s why I’m fighting for Medicaid,” she said.
Hannah Williams, of South Royalton, who works as a health care associate in Barre, said she had to work with patients that had trouble getting coverage for reproductive health care and mental health care services because they were not “prioritized” by health insurers.
“You and I are walking dollar signs to the people that profit from our current health care system and I for one refuse to accept that politicians and billionaires have the right to tell me that my life and the lives of the people I love aren’t worth the risk to their profits,” Williams said. “All of these reasons and so many more are why I’m marching for Medicaid.”
Attendees also heard from a diabetic who would not be able to afford her medication without Medicaid, a single mother working two jobs that did not provide health insurance coverage, a mental health care worker who said Medicaid coverage was essential for the patients he treated, and a seasonal migrant farm worker who was worried about being injured and not having health care coverage.
After the rally, participants were treated to a barbecue lunch provided by the Vermont Workers’ Center.
KILLINGTON — Killington Ski Resort has partnered with a local school to offer more mountain biking instruction this year, hoping to build on the area’s growing cycling economy.
“The camps are a new program for us; we’re partnering with Killington Mountain School,” said Joey Carey, youth sports manager at Killington Ski Resort, in an interview Friday. “We’re kind of teaming up to bring both of our strengths to the table.”
The resort has offered bicycling programs in the past, aimed at beginners and growing the number of cyclists who frequent the mountain. Carey said the resort is now ready to take things further, offering lessons for intermediate and advanced cyclists, private lessons, as well as day and overnight camps for locals and visitors.
“The overnight campers are housed at the school. That’s where the overnight facilities are,” said Carey. “It’s a mixed group of day and overnight campers. There’s local families in the program; there are some families with second homes here who are attending the program as well.”
The resort has increased its coaching staff to accommodate the new programs, Carey said. Last year, about five people managed it on top of other duties. This year, the resort has 25 people, a mix of part and full time, working as instructors.
Much of this came out of customer demand, Carey said. People who’d signed up for Mountain Tours wanted some instruction to go along with it, but were too advanced for the resort’s Learn to Bike program.
“That’s not what (the tours) were supposed to be, so we started selling what people were asking for,” said Carey.
As for Killington Mountain School, the partnership makes sense, said Dave Willis, assistant head of school at KMS.
“We introduced summer camps two years ago for mountain biking,” he said Friday. “In the first year, it was only one week of camps. Last year, we offered 10 weeks of camps, really tried to ramp it up, and then we probably had 30 participants amongst all the weeks.”
He said the program was quite successful for KMS. One camper decided to enroll after attending.
“This year, Killington (Resort) said, ‘We’re going to have camps,’ and we said, ‘Why compete, let’s join forces,’ so we did,” said Willis.
He said the school, which focuses on skiing, has long had a cycling program, but it focuses on cross-country and road biking.
“It’s a small group of people, but every single one of them ends up getting a scholarship to college and many of them go pro, so it’s been really successful,” he said.
Killington Ski Resort’s summer mountain biking options can be viewed on its website, https://bit.ly/2X9ewbd
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