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Program teaches employable green skills
Tim Bala demonstrates a heat sensor device Thursday morning that is used in home energy audits. Bala teaches a two-week weatherization training program at the Featherbone Communiversity that helps unemployed workers learn new employable skills.

Weatherization training program
Learn more about the program or other training available through the Georgia Department of Labor

A new partnership between the Georgia Department of Labor and Lanier Technical College is helping both the environment and the local work force.

The two groups have come together to create a weatherization training program, giving unemployed and underemployed workers an opportunity.

"Last year, when (U.S.) Congress passed the stimulus bill, there was money for work force investment," said Sheri Sather, area assistant work force development director for Georgia Mountains Workforce Investment. "Part of the bill stated that green jobs were supposed to be emphasized, so I started researching different things. I found out that weatherization is one of the easier ways to save energy, and that it is a growing field."

Coupled with the fact that there aren’t many other weatherization training areas in the southeastern United States, the program is a perfect fit for the mountains work force area, which includes Hall County, Sather said.

Participants are given a certificate after completing the two-week program, which includes 48 hours of mostly hands-on training.

"We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from employers," Sather said. "The training has been really specific to the skills that the students need and covers a lot of different areas."

Since the program was launched in the fall, there have been 50 graduates, 12 of which have found permanent employment using their newly acquired skills, Sather said.

"The housing authority has been one of our big employers; they received some stimulus money to weatherize their buildings," she said.

But many employers are attracted to those who have gone through the program because participants graduate with a long checklist of skills they have mastered.

"I observe them for the two weeks, and if they don’t master the skill, then I don’t sign off on it," said Tim Bala, Lanier Technical College instructor. "I got a call from a contractor on the east side of the state who’d placed an ad for a weatherization professional. He said that he received more than 400 resumes, but he selected one of my students because of (the checklist)."

The checklist shows that students understand different types of insulation, know how to use a thermal imaging camera to measure energy leaks and how to take proper measurements to create an accurate supply list.

During the class, Bala said he treats the students like employees.

"When they’re here, it’s like being on a job. If they are late, I give them one chance, if they are late again, when they walk in the door I tell them that they are fired," he said. "It may sound severe, but it’s the right thing to do. It’s such a fast-paced class, so if they are late, they fall behind. If I try to catch them up, that makes the other students fall behind."

According to Sather, participants have come from all over the state — not just from the 13-county mountains work force area.

The program, which is held at the Featherbone Communiversity facility in Gainesville — is open to youth and adults.

"We’re using the same equipment that a contractor would use, so the students are gaining experience that they can take directly to a job site," Bala said. "If they continue with this ... they have the ability to have a very rewarding career. Employees with weatherization skills are in high demand all over."