The Choice Is Yours - Look for the Mark of Quality in Training

October 31, 2012
November/December 2012
A version of this article appears in the November/December 2012 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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We live in a time characterized by choice. As consumers, we have an endless variety of options, whatever goods or services we want to purchase. This is both a blessing and a curse.

Students and professionals in the energy efficiency and weatherization sectors have more choices than ever when it comes to training to do a job, or taking professional development courses. With the power of the web, information is easy to access, but the volume is overwhelming. How is the consumer of education and training to differentiate between the wheat and the chaff? What is the mark of truly excellent training? How do you know that you will be taught the skills you need for the job?

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In alignment with DOE’s Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Retrofits, and using the Job Task Analyses (JTAs) developed by industry experts with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) for energy efficiency jobs, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) is now assessing training programs in weatherization and energy efficiency.

The IREC Credentialing Program

Third-party credentialing is the gold standard when it comes to helping students, funders, policy makers, and other stakeholders choose high-quality workforce training. A three-decade leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy, IREC has blazed a trail with its Credentialing program, laying the foundation for developing a highly skilled workforce for the clean-energy economy. Using robust standards, and a detailed application and assessment process, IREC drives quality workforce training, which increases consumer confidence in the industry.

Since 2005, IREC has worked to accredit renewable-energy training organizations and certify individual educators by evaluating curriculum, administration, program management, personnel, facilities, equipment, and linkage to industry. Institutions and individuals who meet the requirements of IREC’s Institute for Sustainable Power Quality (ISPQ) International Standard 01022:2011 obtain a credential that denotes quality and demonstrates their commitment to excellence and continuous improvement.

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Expansion into Energy Efficiency

Since 2010, IREC has expanded proactively to serve the energy efficiency and weatherization sectors. NREL’s 2011 publication of four JTAs for the home performance industry enhanced these efforts by providing a framework for a high-quality curriculum addressing four job categories: Retrofit Installer/Technician, Energy Auditor, Crew Leader, and Quality Control Inspector.

Using these JTAs, along with IREC Standard 01022:2011, IREC’s Credentialing program is now conducting assessments of training offered through weatherization training centers and other institutions that prepare the workforce for energy efficiency and weatherization jobs. This comprehensive assessment program supports the move in the home performance sector toward increased quality and consistency.

Programs that train students to become retrofit installer technicians, energy auditors, crew leaders, and quality control inspectors are reviewing and enhancing their curricula based on the NREL JTAs to make sure that graduates have been taught the skills they need to perform a defined job safely and effectively. These programs are then applying for IREC Training Program Accreditation, which will distinguish them from their competitors in the marketplace.

In June 2012, the first IREC credential for an energy efficiency training program was awarded to a DOE weatherization training center, the New River Center for Energy Research and Training. (See “In Their Own Words: Credential Holders Attest to the Value of Credentialing.”) In July 2012, the second IREC credential for an energy efficiency training program was awarded to Southface Energy Institute, another DOE weatherization training center. As of this writing, nine energy efficiency and/or weatherization training organizations and four instructors have stepped up to the IREC ISPQ challenge and are in various stages of the assessment process.

While initial outreach was focused on DOE’s weatherization training centers, it is anticipated that IREC’s Credentialing program will expand to serve the private energy efficiency sector, as well as colleges and universities offering this type of workforce training.

In Their Own Words

The New River Center for Energy Research and Training (NRCERT) is proud to represent the national network of Weatherization Training Centers as the first to complete this process to become accredited. This is just our beginning with IREC. Our plan is to become accredited under all four new NREL residential energy efficiency JTAs: Retrofit Installer/Technician, Energy Auditor, Quality Control Inspector, and Crew Leader. The corresponding certifications are nationally recognized industry credentials that are both portable and transferable between both the public and private sectors.

—Mark Jackson
Vice President
New River Center for Energy Research and Training, Christiansburg, Virginia

Southface Energy Institute is dedicated to providing best-in-class learning experiences to building professionals through classroom, hands-on, and in-field training in energy efficiency techniques. The IREC ISPQ Accreditation provides both a method to demonstrate this commitment, and a standard by which continuous improvements can be tracked. With support from DOE and other established weatherization training centers, Southface believes the IREC ISPQ Credentialing program is the standard for training organizations looking to distinguish themselves.

—Sydney Roberts
Home Services program manager
Southface Energy Institute, Atlanta, Georgia

Standards Development

As the home performance industry has rapidly expanded in the last few years, so has the proliferation of certificate-awarding training programs. To support high-quality workforce development and consumer protection, IREC recognized the need to bring standards and quality assessment to this form of training. Since 2011, IREC has worked with experts in energy efficiency, renewable energy, instructional design, and standards development to draft IREC Standard 14732:2012, “General Requirements for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Certificate Programs.” To meet the rigorous requirements of Standard 14732, a certificate-awarding program must demonstrate the market value of the certificate, strong student assessment, a systematic program plan, and a correlation between curriculum and a valid job task analysis. For a side-by-side comparison of IREC Standard 01022:2011 and IREC Draft Standard 14732:2012, see Table 1.

Draft Standard 14732 is now in use in the pilot of a joint accreditation program launched by IREC and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). A total of four organizations, three with energy efficiency scopes, are engaged in the pilot process. The new standard, as well as the partnership with ANSI, will continue to raise the bar for certificate programs that train the energy efficiency, weatherization, and renewable-energy workforce.

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To learn more about IREC, visit irecusa.org, or contact the IREC Credentialing program at credentialing@irecusa.org.

What Does the Future Hold?

Looking forward, the stakes are high. Development of a clean-energy economy, including the home performance sector, requires a well-trained workforce that has the skills to perform high-quality work and instill consumer confidence. Training forms the foundation for a high-quality workforce, and IREC’s standards and credentialing activities will continue to support that training. Full implementation of the ANSI-IREC Accreditation program using Standard 14732 is expected in late 2012. IREC will continue to develop both IREC ISPQ 01022 and IREC 14732 to support the growing needs of the industry. At the same time, IREC will continue to foster industry and government partnerships. Finally, IREC will continue to educate stakeholders on the value of third-party credentialing, and on how that credentialing can improve the training of the energy efficiency and renewable-energy workforce.

Pat Fox is the director of operations for the IREC Credentialing program. Laure-Jeanne Davignon is the program manager for the IREC Credentialing program.

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