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Training Is Ever Green

Evolving Instruction Forges Fresh Careers in Growing Energy Efficiency Field

June 29, 2012
July/August 2012
A version of this article appears in the July/August 2012 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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When Kevin Farrell, director of training for Conservation Services Group (CSG), found himself surrounded by attendees at a recent trade show, he was pleasantly surprised. The firm had decided to have him attend the event at the last minute to demonstrate CSG’s new online building science curriculum. He had no idea that the new learning tool would generate such a buzz.

The new courses combine elements used in advertising and news—storyboarding, crisp graphics, interactive features, multimedia, and video—to grab viewers and keep them engaged. So far, the feedback has been very positive. Needless to say, going to the trade show was a very good call.

Kevin Farrell. (CSG)

For nearly 30 years CSG has kept true to its mission: to make homes and buildings safer, healthier, and more comfortable, durable, and affordable; and to create a sustainable industry focused on the wise use of energy. Reflecting this philosophy, CSG trains contractors and building professionals to ensure that high performance standards are consistently being met.

Online education is an exciting new aspect of CSG’s training division, but the company will continue to use in-class instructors, as it has done for the past 20 years. (See “Training at CSG”.) “Classroom learning is important, and we’ll always have instructors. Nothing beats the personal interactions the live sessions bring,” says Farrell.

CSG has seen a growing interest in technical education in recent years, as the state and federal governments have set higher standards for weatherization work. As a result, utilities, consumers, housing agencies, and other organizations are looking for accredited contractors to ensure quality and measurable energy savings. The need for improved qualifications is driving the demand for continuing education for contractors all over the country.

Mark Dyen, a CSG executive vice president, says another big change in the industry is that jobs in building science are becoming a career path. “There are many more places where excellent training is available, such as at trade schools, community colleges and job centers. Training is carving out a wider niche in the industry,” he says.

A team of students from Contra Costa County, California, show off equations learned in a training session. (CSG)

The History of Training at CSG

Twenty years ago, training sessions were held in a small conference room in CSG’s first office in Boston. Space was limited to just ten CSG staff members. The overhead projector was king. Old-fashioned, wooden dollhouse-like structures were used to illustrate concepts. Few people had ever seen a CFL, and infrared scanners cost a whopping $25,000 each. No one formally taught applied building science (ABS) techniques. Dyen, who has been with CSG since its early training days, says, “The integration of whole-house methods and ABS principles has been part of our curriculum design from the beginning. These concepts are still being taught today.”

Services grew significantly in the mid-1990s, when open-market training became available and CSG’s contractor network expanded. But in 2000, building education at the energy services firm really took off. Big programs got bigger. Contract requirements became more stringent. In 2009, when an infusion of federal stimulus money became available for weatherization programs, states had to ramp up training quickly. Building education exploded at CSG, and the firm was educating hundreds of contractors in shifts to accommodate the demand.

Over the years, CSG’s basic course curriculum has been supplemented with new topics, including solar, home health and IAQ, advanced equipment testing, and software training, among others. Sessions continue to expand geographically, to community colleges, career centers, and hotels. Today, CSG hosts trainings for New England-based contractors in a much larger space—the firm’s 52,000 ft2 LEED Silver-certified headquarters in Westborough, Massachusetts. In this new building, CSG has a state-of-the-art training facility that holds 150 students.

CSG’s online building science curriculum qualifies for continuing-education credits from BPI and is a promising new area for the company. Farrell, who has received awards for innovation in learning technology, began developing the series in 2011. Working with his training services team, Farrell employs adult learning theory and a variety of media formats to engage the learner. CSG’s technical staff of building science experts is tapped for subject matter, and the training team produces everything from scratch, whether it involves scripts, video, or graphics. Last year, two courses, Building Science Basics and Going Solar, were introduced. A third course, Controlling Moisture in the Home, will be added later this year.

“We want to create something unique with our online courses,” Farrell says, “…not just a PowerPoint presentation with a voiceover.” And he adds that the course format offers “a powerful learning experience, with the flexibility that busy people need—we’re really proud of that.”

Training at CSG
Conservation Services Group’s in-house curriculum development team offers continuing education that has helped more than 30,000 industry workers expand their knowledge of building science and obtain certifications from well-respected groups like BPI, RESNET and ACCA. Many of CSG’s training programs support residential energy efficiency programs in several regions of the country. The firm also runs workshops and training sessions for new construction. These cover a wide range of topics, including HERS ratings, LEED ratings, Energy Star Homes certification, and the stretch code.

Think Like MacGyver

Senior Trainer Steven Courville has many techniques that keep students engaged in the classroom. With more than 20 years of experience in residential building science and systems, he holds BPI certifications in Building Analyst, Envelope Professional, Heating Professional, and AC/Heat Pump Professional. He is also a RESNET-certified rater and has been a trainer at CSG since 2006.

Courville gets his students to think beyond just the mechanics of learning. He gets them to develop their critical and analytical skills. His students learn to diagnose problems before they start, and to think on their feet about how to solve them. “Remember how secret agent MacGyver would use one tool and figure out how to get out of the most complex situation in a second? That’s how I want my students to be out there in the field. I tell them to think like MacGyver,” he says.

Courville maintains that it is important to see which students are struggling and which aren’t. “The biggest mistake trainers can make is to teach to only one type of student. Everyone in the classroom is at very different educational levels. Trainers must read every person and communicate accordingly,” Courville says.

Courville’s techniques clearly work, and it shows—95% of his students pass their exams. He is proud to be part of a growing and sustainable industry that benefits the environment, and he enjoys the diversity of the students. But if there is one aspect of the job that is his favorite, he says, “it’s the ‘aha’ moment. When I see a student’s eyes light up after I explain a tough concept, that’s very rewarding.”

Currently, CSG has two full-time trainers on staff. The firm supplements its talented instructor base by using an adjunct faculty of CSG program staff, as well as contract resources.

Nurturing a Green Workforce and Building the Economy

CSG is committed to educating and maintaining a skilled workforce. In conjunction with other partners, the company develops curricula and certification standards, jump-starting opportunities around the country through innovative pilot programs. These initiatives provide more opportunities for people to qualify for technical careers in the ever-expanding energy efficiency sector. To encourage the growth of clean-energy courses, the firm also works with educational institutions. CSG has provided hundreds of classroom training sessions at schools like Hudson Valley Community College in New York, the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center in Rhode Island, and Framingham Community College in Massachusetts, among others.

CSG also reaches out to community-based training programs to cultivate a more diverse workforce. In 2010, CSG provided training for the Pathways Out of Poverty program from JFY Networks, a Boston-based nonprofit agency that helps place inner-city youth in jobs. That same year, CSG won a contract from the Structured Employment Economic Development Corporation to carry out a Women in Building Trades program in Louisville, Kentucky. Fifty-eight women, many of whom were displaced workers, became Certified Building Analysts after being trained by CSG and went on to get well-paying jobs or start their own businesses. One woman even became an energy manager for the city of Louisville, Kentucky.

CSG’s online building curriculum enables contractors to keep skills sharp when time and money are tight. (CSG)

Program Support: Training Is Job #1

In Massachusetts, CSG’s Weatherization Boot Camp trained 750 students in one year to implement the state’s residential conservation program, Mass Save. CSG developed the training curriculum with the Center for Ecological Technology and Springfield Technical Community College. The program saw a 47% increase in trained contractors within just three months of new legislative mandates.

Other state programs, such as Energy Upgrade California, also rely on a network of qualified contractors to carry out high-quality residential energy efficiency work. In 2011, Ecology Action, a nonprofit environmental consultancy based in Santa Cruz, California, and CSG provided worker education through the Subsidized Contractor Training program. In six months, they, along with partner GC Green, trained nearly 800 workers. The level of participation and education acquired by participants encourages Colin Clark, a senior program manager at Ecology Action. “The skill set of the contractors involved has increased exponentially,” he says. “The team’s expertise has enabled us to train a wide range of contractors at many different levels. This will help ensure top-quality labor throughout our network as this important energy efficiency program is carried forward.”

Finding the Right Training

When looking for instruction to get recertified or to brush up on the latest technologies, be sure to check around. An effective training program should cover basic areas, such as air sealing and insulation, in addition to emerging areas, such as solar installation and thermography. Instructors are the cornerstones of any successful program, so check their credentials. Look for certifications from groups such as BPI and RESNET. Trainers should also have subject matter expertise, field experience, and of course, effective teaching skills. They should be incorporating certification standards teaching with real-world scenarios. It’s ideal if they’ve actually crawled around an attic checking insulation levels, or if they’ve done a combustion safety test. The best instructors have practical, hands-on experience that students can relate to.

learn more

CSG is a national firm that designs and carries out energy efficiency programs in addition to providing training services. For more information, visit www.csgrp.com.

There are many options available for building science training in today’s marketplace. Classroom learning with field training is effective, but online education courses are enabling contractors to keep their skills sharp when budgets are tight and time is limited. Keeping current is particularly important in the energy efficiency world, where the bar is continually being raised. Those who take advantage of training programs will reap the rewards of more referrals, bigger contracts, and less liability. Those who don’t, won’t.

Lisa Rinkus is a public relations consultant based in Newton, Massachusetts. She has worked with CSG since 1998.

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