IREC ISPQ Credentialing: A Guarantee of High-Quality Training

July 01, 2011
July/August 2011
A version of this article appears in the July/August 2011 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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The expansion of goals at the federal, state, and local levels to provide residential weatherization and energy efficiency services, combined with the influx of funds from government and utility programs, has resulted in a proliferation of training options for the energy efficiency workforce. There are thousands of training opportunities for workers who want to enter the field of energy efficiency and weatherization. This training is being offered by a variety of sources, including individuals who have worked in the field, community colleges, private training organizations, and nonprofits. The length of time it takes to be trained can vary from days to weeks to months, and the promised results range from introductory knowledge to full certification. (See “Warning: Certificate and Certification Are Not the Same!”) To a student who is looking for training, this maze of options can be overwhelming.

Warning!

Certificate and Certification Are Not the Same!

A certificate indicates completion, is a one-time statement of accomplishment, is awarded by a training or educational institution, and does not mean that the person is certified.

Certification indicates competency measured against a standard, is a voluntary process, is awarded by a third-party standard-setting organization, and has ongoing requirements to maintain.

How Can Students Decide Which Training Program to Take?

Workers who want to be trained for energy efficiency and weatherization jobs need a way to tell which programs offer the best training. They need to know which programs are well managed, which programs are well designed, and which programs are teaching the skills, knowledge, and abilities that are required to perform successfully on the job. In addition, employers need to know which programs provide the best training so they can hire well-trained graduates, while governments and utilities need to know which graduates have received the best training so they can be sure that their workforce investment dollars are well spent. Ultimately, it is high-quality training that drives high-quality work, which in turn drives consumer confidence and support for the expansion of our clean-energy economy.

The varied landscape of options for training has driven the need for third-party assessment of training providers. The IREC ISPQ Accreditation and Certification program provides this independent quality assessment. IREC (the Interstate Renewable Energy Council) is the North American licensee for the ISPQ (Institute for Sustainable Power Quality) International Standard 01022. This standard provides a basis for the assessment of energy efficiency and renewable-energy training providers. Achieving accreditation or certification based on Standard 01022 proves that training providers do consistently excellent work and sets them apart from the pack.

IREC is a nonprofit that was formed nearly 30 years ago to work with industry, government, educators, and other stakeholders to ensure that the broader use of renewable energies is possible, safe, affordable and practical, particularly for the individual consumer. It has contributed to the development of standards, uniform guidelines, and quality assessment for many years. IREC has been assessing the quality of training programs, using ISPQ Standard 01022 since 2005, and as the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency have grown, recognition of the value of the ISPQ credential has grown with them. The IREC ISPQ Accreditation and Certification program has more than doubled every year since 2008 and is poised to continue growing as the industry recognizes and adopts the standards required to assess the quality of training programs and training providers.

 

The IREC ISPQ Accreditation and Certification program has more than doubled every year since 2008 and is poised to continue growing as the industry recognizes and adopts the standards required to assess the quality of training programs and training providers.

 

What Is the IREC ISPQ Accreditation and Certification Program?

The IREC ISPQ accreditation and certification process assesses the quality of a training program. The assessment is robust; it evaluates the application and auditing process; the administration; the management systems; and the facilities, tools, staffing, experience, syllabus, and curriculum of the provider to ensure that the requirements of ISPQ Standard 01022 are met.

The IREC ISPQ Accreditation and Certification program offers six credentials: Training Program accreditation, Continuing Education Provider accreditation, Independent Master Trainer certification, Affiliated Master Trainer certification, Independent Instructor certification, and Affiliated Instructor certification. Training providers must meet specific requirements to earn each of these credentials.

Once a training provider decides to seek IREC ISPQ accreditation or certification, it starts by reviewing the appropriate application and conducting a thorough self-assessment. Each credential has a corresponding application that walks the training provider through the steps required to achieve IREC ISPQ recognition. This is a detailed process—one that requires trainers to provide information on all aspects of their training.

The Application

Each application starts with the core requirements. These are the foundation of a high-quality training program, and require that the applicant have administrative and management policies in place to support the program. The required policies include those regarding nondiscrimination, avoiding conflict of interest, management of student information, confidentiality, safety, professionalism, and experience. To meet this requirement, the applicant must provide a policy manual that is actively used to guide the training.

Following the core requirements, there are five tiers of detailed requirements that apply to the different credentials. These requirements look more closely at the facilities, tools and equipment, record keeping, staffing, and management. For Training Program accreditation, Continuing Education Provider accreditation, Independent Master Trainer certification, and Independent Instructor certification, IREC ISPQ auditors examine student surveys and course evaluations to assess student experience. The evaluations indicate whether the students’ expectations are being met, and the program must show what improvements have been implemented based on the feedback. Continuous quality improvement is essential to the successful management of a training program.

The Curriculum

For Training Program accreditation and Independent Master Trainer certification, the IREC ISPQ requirements take a close look at the content of the curriculum. A high-quality program is expected to teach the full depth and breadth of an industry-recognized job task analysis (JTA), which details all of the tasks and subtasks that a worker must be able to perform to succeed on the job. To achieve IREC ISPQ accreditation, a training provider must demonstrate that its curriculum covers the full extent of the applicable JTA. This is typically done through a chart, which maps the JTA to the curriculum task by task.

JTA for Energy Efficiency Jobs

In 2010, DOE recognized the need for credentialing and standards in energy efficiency training and began a process of developing its Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades. (For more on the Guidelines, see “The New Deal in Energy Education: Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades,” p. 10.) As part of this effort, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) led an effort to work with subject matter experts in the field to develop JTAs for four job categories in energy efficiency and weatherization. These JTAs are used to evaluate curricula designed to train workers for the job categories of Energy Auditor, Installer/Technician, Crew Leader, and Quality Control Inspector, respectively.

“The goal is to help establish a high-quality energy efficiency training landscape nationwide, based on recognized standards and a proven accreditation process,” says Benjamin Goldstein, project lead for the National Residential Retrofit Guidelines with DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program. “While the accreditation is voluntary, it is an effective way for the Weatherization Assistance Program to assess the progress of its Weatherization Training Centers, and is also available to all other energy efficiency training providers (community colleges, private companies, and so on) as an objective means of demonstrating the quality of their programs and differentiating themselves in the training marketplace.”

Submitting an Application

When applicants have completed their self-assessment and have compiled a thorough application packet, they submit a Letter of Intent to IREC to indicate that they are planning to apply for an ISPQ credential. This enables IREC to plan for the particular credentialing and confirm with applicants the credential that they are seeking.

When the application packet is complete, it is sent to the IREC ISPQ Application Processing Center in Albany, New York, to begin the cycle of review. Each application is first reviewed for completeness. Once it is determined to be complete, an auditor is assigned to the application. IREC has a team of auditors who have expertise in teaching and practicing energy efficiency. Advisors who have expertise in curriculum development, program development, and energy efficiency support these auditors.

The Audit

The auditing process begins with a desk audit. Throughout the process, the auditor carefully reviews the detailed information provided in the application packet and determines whether that information meets the requirements of ISPQ Standard 01022. Typically the auditor will have questions for the applicant, based on the results of the desk audit, and will commence an iteration process. During this process, the auditor will communicate with the applicant by e-mail and will request additional information or clarification as needed. The use of e-mail enables the applicant to provide clear, well -thought-out responses, and it provides a communication trail, which can be added to the original application file.

Once the desk audit is complete, applicants for Training Program accreditation and Independent Master Trainer certification are further reviewed through an on-site audit. In this audit, the auditor personally verifies specific components of the application. The on-site audit includes a review of the facilities, inspection of the tools and equipment, review of the administrative procedures, and interviews with key staff. When possible, it will also include observation of instruction. When auditors observe a class, they typically talk informally to students, to understand the experience they are having with the program and to gain insight into the effectiveness of the training.

At the conclusion of the on-site audit, the auditor will meet with the applicant and will provide a report documenting any nonconformities that were found. (A nonconformity is an area where the applicant has not met the requirements of the standard.) If a nonconformity was documented, the applicant has two weeks to submit a corrective action plan to IREC.

Ruling on the Application

Following the desk and on-site audits, the auditor writes a report, which documents the results of the audits. This report is submitted to the IREC ISPQ Award Committee, which decides whether or not a credential will be awarded. The Award Committee is made up of subject matter experts, education professionals, and workforce development professionals, all of whom are well versed in ISPQ Standard 01022.

learn more

To learn more about the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and the IREC ISPQ Accreditation and Certification Program, visit www.irecusa.org.

For more on DOE’s Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades, which at the time of this writing was still being developed, go to www1.eere.energy.gov/wip/retrofit_guidelines.html.

Applicants who achieve IREC ISPQ accreditation or certification are given an official IREC ISPQ mark, which can be used in marketing and in all communications related to the program that has been credentialed. This mark tells the public that the training provided by the program meets the rigorous requirements of a standard that is used internationally to evaluate the quality of training in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Maintaining the Credential

The credentials awarded through the IREC ISPQ Accreditation and Certification program remain in effect for a term of five years. To preserve the value of Standard 01022, and of accreditation and certification based on the standard, IREC seeks to confirm that providers conform to the standard throughout the term of their credential. To maintain a credential, the training provider must meet the annual requirements of the IREC ISPQ program. These requirements include sending an annual report to IREC, which documents any changes in the training that is being provided, and any information that might affect the status of the credential. To maintain a credential, the provider must also pay an annual fee.

Standards Provide Value

Training program standards provide value for the weatherization and energy efficiency workforce. They allow workers to feel confident that they are being taught the skills they need to perform competently on the job. They encourage excellence in the energy efficiency workforce; and ultimately they benefit the consumer, who receives high-quality work from a well-trained practitioner.

 

Pat Fox is the director of operations for the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and oversees the IREC ISPQ Accreditation and Certification program. She can be reached at patfox@irecusa.org.

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