UB architecture school partners with PUSH Buffalo | Web

BUFFALO — In legacy cities like Buffalo, where there’s significantly older housing stock that hasn’t been weatherized, there is a need for workers in the areas of energy efficiency and clean technology. But, there’s currently a shortage of these workers due to a lack of training opportunities.

A partnership between the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning and People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH Buffalo) aims to change that with a collaborative workforce training program that will create pathways to jobs that pay a living wage for unemployed and underemployed individuals in Buffalo.

The Community Climate Leadership Program will prepare trainees for decent, stable and living-wage employment, while developing “citizen architects” who can take on a greater advocacy role on behalf of their communities.

PUSH Buffalo’s new Sustainability Workforce Training Center, a 2,500-square-foot, zero-net energy building, will house the six-week program. Participants will receive hands-on training preparing them to become weatherization installers and technicians, energy auditors, and in other jobs for the local green workforce — positions for which the demand is great but the workforce is in short supply, according to Nicholas Rajkovich, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Architecture, who is leading the UB effort.

The project leverages PUSH Buffalo’s efforts to expand local hiring opportunities and advance economic and climate justice with School of Architecture and Planning faculty members’ knowledge and expertise in how to adapt the built environment to extreme weather and climate change.

While it stands to make a significant impact on Buffalo’s green workforce, project partners emphasize the program could also serve as a model for communities to follow across New York State as they move toward implementing the state’s ambitious Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

Recruiting from Buffalo’s priority populations

PUSH Buffalo will recruit participants from among the area’s unemployed and underemployed populations, the groups most often directly affected by the issues trainees will learn to address.

“Energy efficiency and clean technology projects in legacy cities are often complicated by health issues, such as poor indoor air quality and lead exposure, associated with an older building stock,” Rajkovich said.

“In cities like Buffalo, which the U.S. Census estimates has the oldest housing stock in the United States, these environmental exposures disproportionately impact frontline communities. In addition, residents living in these communities face multiple socio-economic barriers that can prevent access to stable, living-wage employment.”

PUSH’s Hiring Hall will help connect workers with local employers and additional support services.

Local energy efficiency and clean technology jobs pay workers a living wage, allowing them to support a family, while boosting the local economy. In addition, many green jobs require certifications for workers to advance in their employment, and this new program will provide participants with those opportunities.

“New York State put itself at the forefront of climate action through its Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which requires that 70 percent of New York’s electricity come from a renewable energy source by 2030,” said PUSH Buffalo Executive Director Rahwa Ghirmtazion. “Through this innovative university-community partnership, we hope to provide a model in workforce training that supports the just transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy.”

Marketable skills for UB architecture students

The partnership between UB and PUSH Buffalo includes a significant curriculum component for UB’s School of Architecture and Planning.

Graduate students will serve as instructors for the energy efficiency and clean technology programs being taught at PUSH Buffalo’s Sustainability Workforce Training Center. They’ll receive the knowledge and training necessary to teach trainees through a series of courses that begin in fall 2022 and end with a PUSH Sustainability Workforce Training internship in 2024.

The classes for the UB students will be integrated into the School of Architecture and Planning’s master of architecture program. The training program will introduce UB students to a variety of fields and career paths in energy efficiency and clean technology to expand students’ notions of opportunities they can pursue with an architecture degree.

Certification and training will position graduates as uniquely qualified among their peers, says Laura Lubniewski, an adjunct instructor and Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC) who is co-leading the effort with Rajkovich.

“These certifications help to distinguish graduates in the competitive job market because they are equipped with the most innovative knowledge and skills for implementing energy efficiency and clean technologies into design projects,” she said. “This specialized expertise may also generate opportunities to take on leadership roles within an architecture or engineering firm.”

“Their optimism and drive are contagious”

Graduate research assistants from Rajkovich’s Resilient Buildings Lab have been working with PUSH Buffalo on developing a curriculum for the training program, as well as evaluating the energy efficiency and sustainability aspects of the new building.

Gwyneth Harris is a recent alumna of the School of Architecture and Planning who worked on the project.

“I drew so much inspiration from the incredible work that the folks at PUSH do every day,” says Harris, who now works at Trautman Associates. “Their optimism and drive are contagious. Working towards a more just, sustainable and resilient future for my community was really a ray of sunlight in the midst of the global pandemic, and it was so rewarding to contribute to what I see as a vital mission.”

Before graduating, Harris received funding from the UB Foundation to develop a grant proposal for submission to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to support the curriculum development for the program.

“NYSERDA is thrilled to support initiatives like the Community Climate Leadership Program, which demonstrates a successful collaboration between the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning and PUSH Buffalo to help train the next generation of workers for promising clean energy jobs,” said Adele Ferranti, director of workforce development training at NYSERDA. “Programs like these are needed all over New York State as the state undergoes its transition to a green economy, and I’m sure that others will look to this program for inspiration.”

“I feel buoyed knowing that there are so many other people working toward similar visions of a just and resilient future, not just in big, important, faraway places, but right here in my neighborhood,” says Harris, who grew up on Buffalo’s West Side.