Stacks+Joules is a non-profit workforce training program designed to prepare high school seniors for jobs in the building automation field. Based in Boston, the project is currently educating 50 high school seniors and is looking to expand to 100 students and adult learners in two cities during the 2018-19 school year.
The mentored curriculum focuses on lighting, lighting controls, wireless networking, programming, lighting audits, and commissioning. It was developed in response to the U.S. Department of Labor’s estimate that building automation and energy management jobs will grow 21 percent through 2022, while 80 percent of employers currently report difficulty in finding qualified people.
“Once building owners agree to install a networked lighting control system, the leading challenge to realizing savings is finding specialists to both install the systems and keep them running,” said Michael Conway, Executive Director, Stacks+Joules. “This dynamic is a symptom of an industry in the midst of a labor crisis.”
He said there is potential talent overlooked in lower-income communities, which are a focus of the project. According to the Department of Labor, 32 percent of students who earn a high school diploma are not prepared for college or a career, representing 5 million young people. Stacks+Joules works with disadvantaged communities to develop their latent talent.
“Our rigorous blend of hands-on activities, classroom instruction, and real job experience,” Conway added, “is filling the BAS workforce shortage with qualified and motivated new recruits.”
The program begins with students controlling wireless LED lamps—intensity, color, schedules, sequences, feedback loops, etc.—using Python code. They work with a bank of three individually controlled lamps, whose behavior provides immediate feedback and drives learning coding skills. At the end of this section, the students choreograph a lightshow to their favorite song.
“Lighting controls set the foundation of our program,” said Jonathan Spooner, Chief Technology Officer, Stacks+Joules. “The initial focus is on lighting due to its immediate relevance, huge potential for energy savings, and easy engagement.”
A key component of the controls curriculum is the Lighting Controls Association’s Education Express program, which Spooner said provides knowledge necessary for work in the field.
“We find that after completing the LCA Education Express certificate process, the students are really familiarized with the industry lingo and can really think like an energy efficiency consultant,” he explained. “There is also a special sense of pride that the students get once they complete the test and we print out their certificates. We find that once they get these certificates, there is a mental switch that goes off and they start to really envision themselves working in the building automation industry.”
He pointed out the lighting controls education sets the stage for learning about other building controls, such as air handling and then HVACR and safety/security systems.
Next, the students work with lighting industry professionals to identify lamp, ballast, and luminaire types. They learn how to conduct detailed lighting audit reports, culminating in performing an audit of their classroom and then their entire school, which they “pitch” to school and other officials to win project approval.
The final stage of the curriculum focuses on commissioning and re-commissioning. “Ultimately,” Spooner said, “students will be able to train site-based facilities managers in the maintenance and tuning of the lighting controls system for maximum user satisfaction and energy efficiency.”
Making a difference
Stacks+Joules launched in the summer of 2017, developing a six-week internship program for the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management & Maintenance. From there, the project expanded to four cohorts at three sites in Boston and Roxbury, with 50 high school seniors participating.
For example, at Chelsea High School, the project worked with 15 seniors. Despite having no coding experience, they learned quickly. Stacks+Joules partnered with Energy Source, a turnkey provider of energy conservation services, to lead the students on a comprehensive lighting audit of their high school and verify their results. After that, Energy Source worked with them to develop comprehensive proposals for a connected lighting system. At this point, Philips Lighting (now Signify) trained the students on the company’s wireless lighting platform, teaching them how to place lighting equipment on digital floor plans along with how to commission the system. Students assigned control zones, strategically placed occupancy and light sensors, and programmed lighting scenes for multi-use spaces.
All of this work culminated with students pitching the project to a group of Chelsea decisionmakers. “It speaks volumes that Energy Source and Philips Lighting entrusted the students with the very real and very important representation of their work,” said Conway. “The students’ presentation really impressed the city planner’s office, and they are looking to involve the Stacks+Joules cohort in future energy planning for the schools and municipal buildings.”
Additionally, one of the building developers in the audience—ACS Development—opened two of its properties to the students’ energy auditing, resulting in a lighting upgrade project that will launch in summer 2018.
Conway said the project will expand to five cohorts at five sites in Boston and two in New York City. One of these is the Somerville Center for Adult Learning Experiences, the project’s first program devoted to up-skilling adult learners.
Lighting service providers and manufacturers are invited to partner with Stacks+Joules to engage students.
“By working with us to engage students in current projects, or as with the Chelsea project on potential new projects, our partners get first access to a workforce that has been trained on their own products, procedures, and systems,” Conway said. “A close partnership includes classroom participation, work-based learning opportunities such as the audits and site visits Energy Source supported, specific training on systems such as provided by Philips, paid internships, and ultimately, jobs.”
Stacks+Joules also accepts hardware and software. For companies wanting to engage incrementally, Conway said the project will look at designing opportunities that are easily managed and mutually beneficial.
“The most important innovation we bring is workforce expansion,” Spooner said. “Rather than follow the expensive and unreliable strategy of trying to redirect workers from competitors or other industries, Stacks+Joules serves the immediate and specialized needs of BAS employers by recruiting and training new motivated talent.”
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