Dandelion Energy sounds like a politician’s dream—a green energy company
that creates the sort of high-paying, hands-on jobs that millions of American factory workers have lost in recent decades—only the roles with Dandelion are high-tech jobs of the future.
Yet the geothermal energy provider has a problem: hiring or training skilled workers to drill the wells for its heat pumps. And Dandelion has hit worker licensing snags that seem absurd.
“The thing I always worry about is death by a thousand cuts,” says Michael Sachse, the company’s CEO. “And this is where a lot of the cuts are.”
Dandelion spun off from Google X a few years ago and has received $65 million in backing
. The pay is good for its drillers, who can make more than $40 per hour drilling shafts that go 200 to 500 feet below homes.
Yet money hasn’t helped the company with its recruiting problem. Neither have any local officials at workforce boards or state agencies in New York and Connecticut, where Dandelion currently operates.
Geography also is a challenge. Many potential drillers live in the South or West and are reluctant to move to the Northeast, mostly because of the weather and higher cost of living.
“Drillers aren’t on LinkedIn,” Sachse says. “And moving is hard for anyone, particularly if you have a family.”
Training locally has proven difficult as well.
“We’re aware of a small number of training programs for drillers, but we need more,” says Sachse, adding that state-sponsored apprenticeships could help with labor shortages in the skilled trades. “We’d really love to see community colleges focus more on these types of jobs.”
Drowning in Red Tape
Licensing requirements have been a barrier even for Dandelion’s veteran drillers. For example, one senior driller with 30 years of experience and licenses in both New York and New Jersey struggled to get approved by Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection. He had to take two tests for the license, including one on state-specific laws for drilling.
This was hardly the only regulatory hurdle Dandelion has faced in Connecticut, a liberal state that presumably is keen on green energy. Sachse describes Kafkaesque experiences applying for a geothermal license that didn’t actually exist because the state regulation had not yet been approved. The company also applied to a third-party testing agency that cashed Dandelion’s check but never sent it to the state, so the company couldn’t take the required exam.
Dandelion often has struggled with licensing requirements that vary by the state, the county, and sometimes the town. It even has had to create subsidiaries that are primarily owned by its licensed plumbers or electricians.
“We learned the hard way that if we didn’t call to advocate on a regular basis, things just wouldn’t move,” says Sachse. “The world of manual labor really is not built for companies to operate beyond the county level.”
Your Tips Requested
I’ve reached out to experts who might be able to help Dandelion train, hire, and license its drillers. Let me know if you have ideas.
This newsletter also will report regularly on licensing and education barriers that appear to prevent win-win job creation, which may be the case for Dandelion in Connecticut. Please send tips my way