Trainers Speak Out on Demand for Green Retrofit Workforce

The demand is there to create a new green economy, but do we have the trained workforce to begin the job?

July 01, 2009
July/August 2009
A version of this article appears in the July/August 2009 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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More than 70 leading trainers recently shared views on how to meet the new demand for workers in the home energy retrofit market. Affordable Comfort, Incorporated, (ACI) hosted a Trainer Forum and a Green Jobs Day at its Home Performance Conference 2009, held in Kansas City. Both forums built on ACI’s Green Workforce Development Summit and White Paper, sponsored by DOE in July 2008.

Trainers across the country have been in extreme demand as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the new policy focus on energy reduction in existing homes. Important other drivers, such as the Green Jobs Act of 2007, climate change initiatives, tax credits, and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards, reinforce this energy efficiency focus and have stimulated the entry of a host of new stakeholders into the retrofit market.
 
Longtime trainers agree that more trainers and training opportunities are needed immediately to satisfy the current demand for new workers across the whole range of home energy retrofit job classifications. Their work at the ACI Trainer Forum provides some guidance for new stakeholders and serves as a reminder of the resources that have grown out of 30 years of experience in weatherization and home performance retrofit.

ACI is teaming up with a subset of forum participants to develop a white paper based on the findings of the Trainer Forum. Forum participants suggest that all stakeholders
▪     build on existing resources;
▪     train more trainers;
▪     develop software tools to model energy use and project energy savings; and
▪     link green jobs to consumer demand.

Experienced trainers recognized the necessity of creating a fast track into the workplace for installers and field technicians. This means that much of the technical training must be done in the field, with trainers supervising the quality of the work. Higher-level positions, such as auditor, inspector, and crew supervisor, require extensive training in building science theory and health and safety, as well as field experience. Field experience with professional mentoring are critical elements of training for any energy retrofit worker at any level. The real-time or almost real-time access to expert guidance by phone from the field helps crews to clarify their options and gives them the confidence to proceed when they encounter new situations. This resource is currently available to weatherization crews in Wisconsin.

New stakeholders, such as traditional career preparation institutions, may prove to be a beneficial addition to the training mix. This is especially true if those institutions can prepare students with employment skills training, and can offer remedial reading and math, as well as basic business practices. Training partnerships with workforce investment boards, economic development authorities, and academic institutions can augment local and regional training and job placement services.

Training roles and resources will vary greatly from region to region. The local resource base will reflect the region’s history with energy programs, and access to trainers and training centers for energy efficiency. Regions with a tradition of collaboration will probably find it easier to establish partnerships for retrofit training.

Only with guided field experience over time, along with mentoring, feedback on performance, and continuing education, will the goals for energy reduction and performance be met.
Build on Existing Resources

Strong, but healthy, debate continues within the building science and retrofit network over technical standards and best practices. This is due in part to the evolving nature of standards and practices, as technologies improve, and as we learn more about the way building systems work. Right now, we in the building science and retrofit world are becoming newly aware of the need for consistent standards, language, and best practices in our field.

Home energy retrofit owes the position it holds today to two important programs. The first is the 30-year-old Weatherization Assistance program (WAP). The second are the various 6- to 9-year-old home performance programs. In general, home performance programs are market-based programs for consumers who pay for services, while WAP provides free services to eligible low-income homeowners. WAP also serves multifamily properties with income-eligible tenants. Utility-sponsored residential programs are often similar to the WAP program. While each of these programs has its own unique requirements, the best ones treat the whole house as a system.

Both low-income and market-based home performance programs have influenced the setting of new standards. In March 2007, the Weatherization Trainer Consortium produced a report entitled Core Competencies for the Weatherization Assistance Program, which outlines the skills needed for every facet of weatherization work, from technician to trainer.
Most often, home performance programs adopt the standards and knowledge base requirements of the Building Performance Institute (BPI), a national standard-setting and certification nonprofit. Adoption of BPI standards and certification is not a requirement of the EPA Home Performance with Energy Star program, but BPI is frequently adopted as a requirement by program sponsors who understand the potential for market confusion when standards change between service territories.

Adopting a requirement for a national certification with BPI and the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) will provide the energy efficiency workforce with a common core of consistent national standards with a professional identity and standing.

Trainers emphasize that achieving any certification is merely the beginning of the journey to understanding how buildings work and how to fix them. Only with guided field experience over time, along with mentoring, feedback on performance, and continuing education, will the goals for energy reduction and performance be met.

New stakeholders may be tempted to reinvent the wheel, by developing their own standards and training requirements.They may be unaware of the array of technical resources that are available, and of the research that shows which programs and initiatives have worked best. This could waste precious time and resources. The market has already produced a wide range of proprietary technical resources, publications, and building science training curricula, and it is poised to produce even more. Consumers seeking training, trainers, homeowners, and training sponsors would benefit by having a national clearinghouse that they could use to access information. The clearinghouse could list trainer profiles, showing credentials, certifications, areas of expertise, and years of experience. The clearinghouse might even provide users with guidance to help them identify the best resources for their purposes.

(For more on existing resources, see “For more Information.”)

Train More Trainers

The existing training network has responded to the need for more training. Trainers have added more classes. Most qualified trainers are fully booked for the next six months. Most classes are full, and there is almost no need to market the classes. Training has grown beyond the classroom to a variety of online options. As stimulus funds drive up production goals, and state and utility programs expand, more and more workers are needed. The demand for training stretches across all job classifications, from installer to auditor, to crew supervisor, and beyond. As experienced professionals move up the career path over time, replacement workers will be needed. The previous pace and plan for training is no longer sufficient to meet the current demand.

It’s time to expand our vision for training. We still need the more formal training of the classroom and the boot camp, but we also need to fast-track installers and integrate them into the crews to meet production and energy reduction goals. Every existing worker will have an added responsibility for training the new workers coming into the team. This makes it even more important to use a common core of standards and protocols. To rapidly deploy new workers, everyone on the team must understand, practice, and communicate the same procedure.

Community colleges and other academic institutions are eager to begin energy efficiency career training. Colleges will need curricula. Instructors will need to be trained in building science, in field application, and in diagnostic assessment. Those new to the field may be surprised by the complexity of the interactions between different systems within buildings, the sophistication of the diagnostic tools and software, and the cost of the props for the lab and simulations.
The existing building science training network is the best and most immediate resource for identifying effective models for training, for curricula, and for publications. New teachers and trainers will need guidance in choosing or creating curricula. Qualifications for trainers need to be defined. Summit participants recommend that the industry develop a certification for energy retrofit trainers.

A variety of train-the-trainer classes are being rolled out in several regions. More such classes are needed. The creation of a centralized clearinghouse for trainers, curriculum sources, consumer information, and resources will bring the long-term experience of the existing building science network to the attention of new stakeholders.

Develop Software Tools

Energy auditors assess the energy performance of a home using diagnostic tools, such as blower doors, combustion-testing equipment, draft gauges, Duct Blasters, and infrared cameras. The work of one auditor can often sustain the retrofit work of four or more crews. Auditors pay special attention to potential or existing health and safety problems that may affect the occupants, the retrofit workers, or the retrofit work. They are responsible for creating a work order for the retrofit crew, with recommended products, installation specifications, and cost estimates. The work order is prioritized to show the most cost-effective measures for the specific home. Software is not needed to generate the work order, or to test the cost-effectiveness of the recommended measures, but it is often used. Sometimes the program requires that it be used. Software and reporting requirements often create an administrative burden for the contractor.

BESTEST EX is a tool currently in development by DOE and soon to be completed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. This tool will allow developers to test their software against criteria for performance in modeling energy usage and predicting energy savings. It is certain that the market will respond to BESTEST EX by improving upon existing software, to create more accurate and user-friendly tools for auditors.

Link Green Jobs to Consumer Demand

The White House Council of Economic Advisors estimates that the Recovery Act will create or save 3.5 million jobs by the end of 2010. They estimate that 678,000 of those jobs will be in construction, and that many of them will be jobs in residential energy efficiency retrofit. Local jurisdictions are currently assessing their own green jobs potential. Right now the potential for retrofit jobs is in the realm of speculation and prophecy. Whatever the real number, green jobs will increase in 2010 and 2011. Long-term job creation will depend upon the energy and climate policies that local, state, and the federal government adopts in the future.

One might suppose, or even hope, that the stimulus funds would provoke a sea change in consumer awareness and behavior—a change that will drive the demand for home retrofit services and even deeper energy reductions. To meet national goals for creating jobs, reducing energy use, and revitalizing the economy, a national consumer education campaign is needed to parallel the training of new workers for green retrofits. Consumers need to know that they have proven options, and they need to have confidence in their retrofit investments. Common core standards and professional certification with third-party quality assurance will increase consumer confidence and investment.

The trainer participants strongly recommend that new initiatives be built on the existing resources, and that the expertise of the building science network be tapped to guide future developments in home energy retrofit.   

Helen Perrine is ACI's executive director.

>> For more information:
The ACI white paper
Developing a Green Workforce for Energy-Efficient Home Improvement, Affordable Comfort, Incorporated, 2009, detailing the results of the 2008 Green Workforce Development Summit: Energy-Efficient Home Improvements, is available in print or at www.affordablecomfort.org.

Core Competencies for the Weatherization Assistance Program, Weatherization Trainer Consortium, is available from the Weatherization Assistance Program Technical Assistance Center at www.waptac.org.

Details of the BPI Knowledge Essential Task List (KETL) are available at www.bpi.org.

A report of the Council of Economic Advisors,
The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, is available for download at otrans.3cdn.net/ee40602f9a7d8172X_ozm6bt5oi.pdf.

ACI will coordinate a train-the-trainer workshop in fall 2009 and will expand on this article in a white paper entitled
Training Strategies for Energy Efficiency, to be published by November 2009. For more information, contact Helen Perrine, ACI executive director, at hperrine@affordablecomfort.org.
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