Detroit-based academy to help train residents for jobs in energy efficiency

Darius Fells grabbed a red square frame off of Geraldine Thompson’s living room floor and began placing it in the front doorway. 

The energy auditor then installed a fan and air pressure gauge and conducted a test to see how much air was escaping from Thompson’s front door. 

“When I run a door blower test, a customer can walk with me through the house and feel where they have an air leak,” said Fells, a Harper Woods resident, who works for Detroit-based Walker-Miller Energy Services. “So, as an energy auditor, it helps me because I can depressurize the house.” 

The test demonstration was part of a Monday news conference at Thompson’s east side home held by DTE Energy and Walker-Miller Energy Services to announce their partnership on the Energy Efficiency Academy, a new initiative that trains Detroiters for jobs in the energy industry. Launched last fall, the eight-week program offers both classroom and field training work in Detroit homes to implement energy-saving home upgrades or installs, according to a news release from DTE. 

“Energy efficiency is the fastest growing segment of the energy industry and leading the clean energy transformation,” Carla Walker-Miller, founder and CEO of Walker-Miller Energy, said during the Monday press event. “So, we are honored to be able to recruit, train and hire a workforce that reflects the diversity of the communities that we work within.” 

Carla Walker-Miller, founder and CEO of Walker-Miller Energy, partnered with DTE Energy on the Energy Efficiency Academy in Detroit. The academy aims to recruit, train and hire a workforce “that reflects the diversity of the communities that we work within,” she said during a Jan. 23, 2023, press conference on Detroit’s east side. (BridgeDetroit photo by Micah Walker)

The program is also a benefit for customers, as energy efficient home repairs can help save them money, said Trevor Lauer, president and chief operating officer of DTE. 

“We’ll come out and we will install a programmable thermostat for free,” he said. “And if you use that thermostat, you can save up to $180 a year on your various utility bills. Another common thing we see with customers is air leaks inside their homes. If you have us come out, we will help you fill those air gaps in and for free. Customers can save up to $200 a year on their various utility bills.”

Thompson said she’s been able to benefit from DTE’s Energy Efficiency Assistance program, where customers with limited income can receive multiple energy efficient products for free in an effort to lower their monthly energy bill. 

Shortly after Thompson moved into her home in December 2021, she found out there were some issues with her furnace and hot water tank, she told BridgeDetroit. When DTE came to inspect the house, they discovered a carbon monoxide leak. Thompson then filled out an application for the assistance program and DTE installed a new furnace and water tank, as well as a central air unit, she said. 

“When they (DTE) came in and did everything, I was very grateful,” she said. “I knew it had to be God because I didn’t know about this program, I didn’t know they would go to the extent of helping anyone. But they stepped in and did everything and everything’s been going good ever since.” 

More jobs needed in energy efficiency industry

Participants of the Energy Efficiency Academy receive professional guidance and are connected to a recruitment network for entry-level jobs starting at or above $18 per hour. They are also able to receive the certifications needed to have a career in electric, HVAC, insulation, and home performance skilled trades.

In addition, participants will be paid for their time in the program, starting at $16 an hour. Daily meals and transportation stipends in the form of gas cards and bus tickets are also included. 

In Detroit, nearly 40,000 owner and renter-occupied households have inadequate housing conditions, according to the University of Michigan’s Detroit Metro Area Community Study. But there aren’t enough workers in the energy efficiency industry to help fix those repairs. 

More than 2 million skilled trade hires are needed nationwide through 2024 to address labor demand, mitigate weakened housing supply and improve affordability, said the Home Builders Institute, a nonprofit provider of skilled trades training in residential construction.

Ten people were part of the academy’s first cohort and the second is expected to start in the spring, according to the release.

One of the first program participants was Marquise Burnett, who is now an energy specialist at Walker-Miller. The 19-year-old said the advantages the academy has given him has been overwhelming. 

“Going through the energy efficiency program,  I had plenty of days where I didn’t want to go or I didn’t know what I was here for, but it opened doors for me,” Burnett said. “So, me being in this program showed me things are possible for people of my minority and people everywhere.” 

Those interested in enrolling in the academy, can email Walker-Miller at [email protected] 



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