By Johnny Mason
After four years of selling cell phones in a dead-end job, 31-year-old Jonathan Casiano said he was ready for a change. Impressed by the energy industry’s growth, Casiano pursued the necessary certification to conduct energy assessments and inspect duct work. Getting certified took six weeks and cost about $3,000, or one of the best investments he ever made, Casiano said.
“The way I look at it this is a career, not just a job,” said Jonathan Casiano, who is Latino, and has been working as an energy specialist with Victory Energy Solutions for the past three years.
State Sen. John W. Fonfara, whose district has the second highest percentage of Latino constituents in the state, has expressed concern that not enough Latinos are benefiting from jobs in the booming energy industry and is working to change that.
Using a restaurant analogy of a waiter considering a career as a cook or a chef, Fonfara said that after Latinos get their feet in the door and become familiar with how the energy conservation field works they can try other jobs or get the training and experience necessary to start their own business. “Latinos have a strong mercantile background,” said Fonfara, who grew up in Hartford.
Fonfara is co-chairman of the legislature’s Energy and Technology committee, a group made up of House and Senate members who work with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to create energy policies and laws. In that role, Fonfara has laid the groundwork for new jobs.
He believes there are very few Latinos – and minorities in general – in the energy field simply because many are unaware of the demand for those skills or they are or unfamiliar with these careers, he said.
He says Latinos and other minorities must get the training and certification necessary to qualify for the wide range of job opportunities. Since passing a bill into law last year, he’s encouraged Latinos to get information about various programs leading to jobs by consulting with utility and state officials.
“Energy is a rapidly growing field. There’s billions being spent and I want Latinos to be part of that explosion,” said Fonfara, who serves Hartford and Wethersfield.
Many of the provisions found in Fonfara’s bill are included in Gov. Dannel P. Molloy’s recently-announced energy strategy, a plan calling to convert as many as 300,000 households to natural gas by 2020.
It’s because of Fonfara’s efforts that the state created a “small business strike force,” said Dennis Schain, DEEP communications director. The strike force will offer subsidized energy audits for small minority-owned businesses, suggested energy improvements could be eligible for low-interest loans. “John has always made certain that there are provisions that address the needs of residents and businesses in urban areas,” Schain said.
It was the lure of a growing energy field that prompted Paul Keyes to leave excavating and site work a few years ago. After becoming certified, he and a partner opened an energy business that specializes in energy-efficiency and conservation management. Much of his work involves providing energy assessments to homeowners and businesses where services can range from sealing air leaks to replacing cooling and heating systems.
With a 27-member staff made up primarily of Latinos, African-American and Asian-American employees, Keyes understands first-hand the opportunities available to minorities. With so many job levels, each requiring a various skills, a person can progress from an energy auditor to an engineer.
“It’s important for minorities not to miss the growth found with the energy efficiency and energy renewable business,” said Keyes, an African- American, who runs Victory Energy Solutions in New Britain.