The New Deal in Energy Education: Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades

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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Inspired by Vice President Joe Biden’s vision to expand job opportunities and make residential buildings more energy efficient, the Recovery Through Retrofit Workforce Working Group has developed and released the Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades. These draft-stage documents, more commonly known in the field as standardized work specifications, or SWS, and job task analysis and knowledge skills and abilities, or KSA, reached public hands and eyes for review on November 9, 2010. (See a sample SWS in “Raising the Bar for Home Performance,” HE Mar/April ’11, p. 52.) They clearly define performance requirements for high-quality energy retrofit work, standards, regulations and codes, and all the tasks and abilities that this work entails.

The Working Group includes individuals from DOE, the U.S. Department of Labor, EPA, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Collectively, this group completed the difficult task of consolidating the vast and diverse body of knowledge to be found in the energy efficiency retrofit industry. This newly organized, peer-reviewed collection enables anyone who works in career and technical education—both private and public—to develop instructional materials that are current in their methods, technically sound, and relevant to the industry in terms of trainee professionalization and job mobility.

Although DOE released the documents in draft stage and they are technically still undergoing public review, many weatherization agencies, private companies, and community and technical colleges are already integrating these guidelines into training manuals, technical standards documents, and field guides.

The Guidelines and Curriculum Development

Elliott Management Consultants (EMC), where I am a training program developer, is one of the groups using the Guidelines in draft stage to develop building science learning materials. The EMC curriculum team consists of curriculum developers and writers from both private industry and postsecondary education. Our team also relies on technical experts and experienced trainers from the weatherization and building science industry to provide subject matter expertise. In the process of creating a curriculum for a technical college, the team discussed best methods for integrating the Guidelines to ensure that the training modules would be eligible for use in national certification initiatives.

The Core Competencies, developed by the Weatherization Plus subcommittee and the Weatherization Trainers Consortium in 2007, have played an integral role in the development of training programs, and in the evaluation of weatherization personnel. The Competencies are similar to the KSA in that they give trainers and trainees a clear sense of the requirements of each individual job. The KSA move to a higher level, in that they, unlike the Competencies, are similar to the approved curriculum modules currently being used in career and technical colleges.

For example, while a more traditional curriculum pulls together every conceivable concept related to HVAC, an HVAC curriculum module explains what someone in each job type should know about HVAC in the process of retrofitting a residence.

The vocabulary used to discuss various types of jobs and job requirements differs as well. In Core Competencies, you will find the term consumer; in the KSA you will find client. Differences in terminology can seem unimportant until you perform a consistency review of your documents and find that these differences can create confusion among students. The KSA are arranged into domains and tasks, whereas the Core Competencies are arranged by job type, followed by a list of required competencies.

With the KSA still in draft form, the multitude of contributions occasionally result in redundancies. In “Task 3a: Install Air Sealing Measures,” the “Knowledge of” list includes, “Material capability (e.g. temperature limits, width of span of sealant)” twice, as well as “Material durability, Material strength.” We will eventually see some settling and consensus, but if Joe Biden’s vision comes to fruition and a number of new job types are created, we will need to change job-related terms and how we use them. Can you imagine, within community, technical, and four-year colleges, training programs not only for Installers, Auditors, Crew Chiefs, and Inspectors, but also for K-12 Energy Instructors, Health and Safety Community Consultants, or Neighborhood Energy Advocates? Some centers are working on creating job types now and are already in the process of establishing ways to evaluate and assess educational and technical achievement in those positions.

Our curriculum team agreed that the documents recently released must be customized to each individual training program. The manager of a training plan will need to decide what information is relevant and integrate the sections that contain that information into training manuals or field guides.
 

It seems to be all the fad for trainers, administrators, and building science experts
to cozy up with the Guidelines for a little light evening reading.


In the SWS section on “Exterior Walls,” and more specifically, on “Exterior Dense Pack,” the specifications list the what and the why of what needs to be done. Workers need to follow lead-safe work practices, evaluate cavities for hazards, and install blocking. The why is explained by stating that these measures prevent mess and damage and ensure consistency in application. What we don’t see—which DOE mentions in the introduction to the document—is the how of each measure, and this is what will need to be explained in the training materials.

Training materials should include clear, interesting illustrations and text that describe how to perform each step of the measure. With many of these measures, selecting the correct materials, and following the correct sequence of activities, is critical. This can be accomplished by using the Guidelines as a starting point and relying upon experienced trainers to demonstrate how each measure should be completed. If training staff find themselves without an expert trainer or staff writer to work on these documents, DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) has produced an exceptional standardized curriculum that can be downloaded at no cost. This curriculum is designed for both experienced and new training personnel. WAP regularly updates each module to include the most current and widely approved techniques for energy retrofit work.

The Guidelines and Training

Where the Guidelines really shine is in their adaptability while training materials are being developed. As an early experiment, a few of EMC’s trainers used trainer’s guides and PowerPoint presentations that contained material from the Guidelines. One trainer commented that the materials were a bit “too wordy” and lost the interest of the students. They also added time to his course preparation. As a result, he defaulted back to his previous training routine to get the class back on track.

As a former instructor, I tend to agree that text-heavy PowerPoints immediately invite groans and yawns from students. To amend the boredom factor, if you want to begin to integrate the Guidelines into your training, I suggest that you break up the Guidelines text into one or two lines per slide, and illustrate each line with colorful, interesting, and even humorous images. Visual relief always helps to maintain student interest, and everyone loves a good joke.

Trainers reported that after the training, they referred their trainees’ managerial staff to the Guidelines, citing them as an important, if still developing, resource. It seems to be all the fad for trainers, administrators, and building science experts to cozy up with the Guidelines for a little light evening reading. In conversations with trainers and curriculum writers alike, I commonly hear that the KSA are a popular addition to the repertoire of frequently used documents.

Clear job descriptions help employees to perform their best. After all, if you know exactly what is expected of you, you are more likely to meet those expectations. In the case of organizing field resources for an agency, identifying clear job responsibilities helps to make daily operations safer and more efficient.

Many agencies, and even private groups, that perform energy retrofit work operate out of a shared warehouse. We have all seen examples of clean, safe, well-organized inventories, and we have all seen the opposite. The worst warehouse I ever encountered had food rations on the ground floor where varmints could and did get into them. Ladders and hand tools were haphazardly thrown into a pile, and were not well maintained.

learn more

To follow the development of the Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades, visit www1.eere.energy.gov/wip/retrofit_guidelines.html.

To download the DOE Core Competencies, visit www.waptac.org/Training-Tools/Core-Competencies.aspx.

To learn more about the national certification initiatives, visit www1.eere.energy.gov/wip/retrofit_guidelines.html.

For the Weatherization Assistance Program Standardized Curricula, visit www.waptac.org/Training-Tools/WAP-Standardized-Curricula.aspx.

For more information on the Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades and other energy efficiency initiatives, contact the DOE Recovery Through Retrofit Workforce Working Group. Tel: (877) 337-3463; E-mail: eereic@ee.doe.gov.

To learn more about EMC’s training programs, contact Elliott Management Consultants, Incorporated, 2020 Charlotte St., Bozeman, MT 59718. Tel: (406) 522-7388; E-mail: micaela@emcmt.com; Web: www.emcmt.com.

To get in touch with the Weatherization Plus subcommittee and the Weatherization Trainer Consortium, provide your contact information at www.waptac.org/Contact-Us.aspx.

When warehouses and inventories are not well kept, crew time and efficiency suffer. Improper, unsafe, or poorly maintained tools are a liability. Irresponsible tracking of tools and materials leads to waste, loss, and sometimes theft. Crews must travel each day, or every other day, to replenish materials, when an inventory tracking and bulk ordering system would save hundreds of hours. How do the KSA address this problem? Go to the Guidelines and look at the job description for a Retrofit Installer/Technician. There you will find a series of specific tasks that pertain to the management of tools and materials.

This means that when putting trainings together, or simply clarifying who is responsible for what on your staff, you can refer to the Domains/Tasks for the particular job to divide up work evenly among the crew. In the case of a shared warehouse, a training that uses the KSA Installer/Technician job description to train an Installer would designate one or a few individuals to care for and maintain inventories. This approach shows the employees what to do, and they can now be held accountable for these tasks.

After participating in a training that includes or is based on this KSA, the Installer will understand how to order materials, store and organize them, use them safely, and put them back when he or she has finished using them.

The Future of Training in the Energy Industry

Some training programs have managed to develop innovative energy curricula, but some continue to rely upon the four standardized job types and three- to six-day training formats common to the weatherization program. A standard or traditional approach isn’t necessarily bad, especially since energy education programs are relatively new to some colleges, and institutions and instructors need time to develop the foundations of the energy field before taking off in new directions. The engineering and science disciplines have been engaged in energy education the longest, but the field is expanding into other disciplines as well.

At EMC, we considered the nature of our highly visual society and began translating the text of the Guidelines into images, and even sound. There are many media to work with, from text to TV to the whole line of Apple products. We have developed a set of 80 web tutorials, called How-To, that break down each weatherization measure into a set of simplified and sequential tasks. Clients decide which tasks their trainees or employees need to learn, and EMC develops the short, narrated web tutorial for them to take with them onto the job site. This simplifies field training and helps crews to become more independent. EMC has developed a corresponding app so that anyone can download the How-To’s onto a mobile phone, iPad, or field-tough laptop.

It will be exciting to see what the building science and energy industries come up with next. Even programs limited in funding have access to exceptional and innovative training materials at no cost. For those who wish to experiment with educational technologies in energy programs, the possibilities are endless.

Micaela M. Young is training program developer for Elliott Management Consultants, Incorporated.

 

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