The future looks bright for Adriane Falcon of Pasco County as she sits studiously in an all-day weekend class learning to become a weatherization energy auditor.
Falcon, 24, who has several weeks left before she completes the course and takes a national certification exam, has already hit the ground running.
She has developed a business plan with a family member to start an entrepreneurial venture: an energy consulting company serving commercial and residential customers.
From Falcon's perspective, it's an underutilized market with a definite need for energy savings, health and safety.
Falcon is one of many adults with varied backgrounds enrolled in a free training program for weatherization auditors and installers offered through Hillsborough Community College's Institute for Corporate and Continuing Education.
The institute partnered with WorkNet Pinellas to earn a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program. Florida requested and was granted a part of the $5 billion infusion of national stimulus money in 2009 to help low-income homeowners make energy-efficient improvements, in consultation with energy auditors, designed to save them about $358 annually.
In addition to helping homeowners, the program has trained thousands of unemployed and underemployed Americans to become certified energy professionals, helping to keep expenses down while improving the comfort, safety, durability and efficiency of existing homes and commercial properties.
Since 2010 in Florida alone, 1,326 energy services jobs have been created, according to the Energy Services Coalition, a national organization serving the energy performance contracting industry.
Sam Radowick and Hector Hernandez are both products of the Florida Weatherization Assistance Program in Tampa Bay. Once struggling construction workers, they successfully completed the HCC program and became certified weatherization experts who are now giving back to the program as instructors, very enthusiastic about their students and the industry.
"This is a rocking industry with information coming at you every day that can be applied to every aspect of your life," said Radowick, following a break in his weatherization class on a sunny Saturday morning. "You can see a return on investment within 12 months.
"The vast majority of what we do is very cost-effective yet it makes all the difference in the world. In the process of making your world healthy, we can reduce your energy costs."
Hernandez was one of Radowick's first students to successfully complete the program and receive industry certification.
"I'm so happy that Sam recognized my abilities," Hernandez said. "Everyone has something they can bring to this program. We need people with different skills going into the field and on the back end letting people know about it as well."
Radowick and Hernandez offer a combination of personalized classroom instruction and field training where students work one-on-one with instructors and are given the opportunity to perform on-site audits of homes in Hillsborough County built in the 1990s by Habitat for Humanity.
The students learn how to examine areas of energy waste and how to improve them. They also learn the components that make buildings less efficient, like faulty heating and air-conditioning systems and poor insulation.
A major part of the program focuses on health concerns that poor environmental air quality can cause as a result of lead paint, asbestos, radon gas, mold and mildew. Students learn how to use gas testers, blower door systems and thermal imaging tools that test for leakage and airtight areas.
At the end of the program, which ranges from seven to eight weeks depending on whether it's a weekday or weekend course, students are ready to take the written and field examinations certifying them as Building Performance Industry experts, commonly known as BPI certification.
"Women gravitate to the health and safety aspect of it, the indoor and environmental air quality," Radowick is quick to point out. "Women bring a perspective to the class we wouldn't get. The guys build the houses and women can see outside the box."
Cate Hammer is one such woman who put her heart and soul into Radowick's class this year, passed it with flying colors and is now awaiting her BPI certification. Occasionally assisting his class by leading the on-site audits with students in the field, Hammer, a former paralegal, considers her new career an amazing opportunity.
"You don't have to work in the construction industry to succeed," Hammer said. "I put all my past experience into this and now I'm working toward opening my own consulting firm as a startup."
Francine Simmons, a Tampa homemaker and mother, came to the program seeking to start a career outside the home.
"This is my tax dollars at work," Simmons said. "I'm depending on a good education. It's our responsibility to be good stewards for our children and our grandchildren."
The weatherization program can lead to lucrative employment. Certified weatherization professionals and building performance experts are positions that pay well and are in demand in every area of the country.
"The qualifications are that you have a real desire and the right attitude," Radowick said. "Your background doesn't matter to me."
Kathryn Moschella can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.