DCSEU Workforce Development graduate London Summers and DCSEU Managing Director Ted Trabue at the 2016 graduation. Summers is now employed by DCSEU. (Courtesy photo)

Washington, D.C. residents are being trained for and gaining opportunities in the renewable energy industry through a unique program created to establish the city as a leader in the sustainability movement.

The DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) was established by the Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008 and is a project of the Sustainable Energy Partnership. The agency is contracted by the District not only to promote a reduction in the use of fossil fuel energy but also to increase green jobs, which many experts have said are the jobs of the future.

“Quite frankly, this was an experiment because this has not been done anywhere else in the country,” said the DCSEU’s Managing Director Ted Trabue of the program, which has been in operation since 2011. “We’re blending an energy efficiency program with a social equity program which is quite different to what happens in other states.”

At the time the Clean and Affordable Energy law was passed, the District was, and still is, struggling with unemployment problems in many parts of the city, Trabue said.

“The way this program was designed to address that problem was both to help in promoting energy efficiency and also providing unemployment relief and stimulating opportunities for D.C. businesses to learn about this new paradigm of green energy and become part of the green industry,” he said.

At least one-third of the agency’s contracts go to local businesses.

“Our goal every year is to create 88 full-time-equivalent jobs,” Trabue said.

Based on D.C. law, the criteria for the program’s job creation component are: 1) Persons employed must be D.C. residents; 2) Jobs must pay the living wage of $13.85 an hour or higher; 3) The work that is done must be in support of the overall mission of energy efficiency and increased use of solar energy; 4) The job must be included on certified payroll; and 5) Job must comprise at least 1,950 hours of work per year.

“We’ve fared very well against that goal. Only in one of the five years we have not achieved that goal and that was due to a clerical error,” Trabue said.

The participants are taught skills such as interviewing and résumé preparation. And they do 6-month externships, where they gain on-site training, experience and certifications at participating DCSEU contractors or customers and earn wages paid by DCSEU. The agency then assists graduates with job placement.

Last year the program had a placement rate of 85 percent. This year, it had a placement rate of 100 percent.

“The typical placement rate of workforce development programs is south of 35 percent,” Trabue said, further saying of DCSEU’s success, “You have to have private-sector employers brought in up front.”

Howard University, for example, has collaborated with DCSEU for four years, hosting externs and even offering employment to some graduates.

Alfonzye Chisholm, director of the Office of Sustainability at Howard, was the keynote speaker at DCSEU’s recent graduation ceremony, and said of the graduates: “I have interviewed many people over the course of my career, and that’s professionals in all walks of life. I can say this in truth and honesty I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed better prepared people than these externs that came to my office.”

Jonathan Lopera, a 2015 alumnus of Howard University, graduated from the DCSEU Workforce Development program this year. 

“Before I got into DCSEU, I tried to apply for jobs in D.C. and couldn’t get one. And then I tried in Maryland and Virginia and still couldn’t get a job. It was very hard,” the 24-year-old told the AFRO.

At DCSEU, Lopera said he learned interviewing and other job training skills and practical knowledge about green jobs that better-prepared him for his job search. And, he has landed a job as an electrical engineer—his field of study—at an architectural firm in D.C.

“I feel pretty blessed about it. I feel good,” he said of his new position.

Kerri Chambers, a 2015 DCSEU graduate, has since moved to Detroit to participate in an exclusive Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ two-year leadership development program. Through that program, Chambers will have the opportunity to work in seven different engineering positions for the automotive company, and is also required to obtain a master’s degree from a local university, which will be financed by the company.

“What the DCSEU workforce development has done for me…is help me to see what so many other people had already said they see in me,” Chambers said in a recorded interview. “I came in with a certain set of confidence, but the program helped me flourish and blossom into the person that I’m ultimately going to be.”