Going Mobile - Growing Green Training in Arkansas

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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NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) in Bentonville, Arkansas, is helping put Arkansas on the map with its green-jobs training. I am the director of the Department of Building Sciences at the college. Since 2003, the department has offered electrical and plumbing apprenticeship and HVAC training. In 2010 and 2011, Building Sciences received several energy efficiency- and green jobs-related training grants from the Arkansas Energy Office, Arkansas Weatherization Assistance program, and Arkansas Department of Workforce Services. The objectives of these grants are to train students to national standards in energy auditing, HVAC duct sizing, and weatherization, and to infuse green practices into existing trades.

Right Image View of NorthWest Arkansas Community College’s mobile training lab. (Charles Fowler and Robert Hanlon-NWACC)

Right Image Students get hands-on training inside mock home in lab. (Charles Fowler and Robert Hanlon-NWACC)

Right Image Students use latest diagnostic tools to capture data from energy audit. (Charles Fowler and Robert Hanlon-NWACC)

Right Image Inside view of mobile training lab. (Charles Fowler and Robert Hanlon-NWACC)

Our instructors were instrumental in obtaining credentials and affiliations from BPI, RESNET, ACCA, and DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program weatherization standards. NWACC transformed its 5,000 ft2 training bays and classrooms into a state-of-the-art hands-on playground for energy training. Our staff were afforded the opportunity to attend training and conferences across the country, and to speak to trainers and individuals who are experts in the energy/weatherization industry. We received a lot of guidance on creating a high-quality hands-on space that goes hand-in-hand with teaching national standards and curricula. Since it’s easier to transform trades workers into instructors than it is to take college instructors and make them industry experts, NWACC’s instructors all have real-world experience in construction and the trades. The instructors are the key to our success.

Partnerships

Partnerships are our key to achieving goals. The Arkansas Energy Office, Weatherization Assistance program, and Department of Workforce Services envisioned bringing green training to Arkansas by securing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding and subawarding funds to NWACC. Other partnerships have also helped to promote green training in Arkansas. Pulaski Technical College (PTC) in Little Rock was also charged with implementing green training. PTC and NWACC put their heads together and started reaching out for strategic partnerships to help support green-jobs training. The city of Fayetteville was the first to support the training at NWACC. Fayetteville has been very progressive with its practices in sustainability and growing a green economy in Arkansas. The city wants to see companies and services come to northwest Arkansas and hire workers who have been trained in a variety of green jobs.

Many area utilities, such as Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO), have supported green training by requiring their contractors to obtain credentialing in BPI or RESNET from NWACC. The larger construction companies also require their subcontractors to receive green training. Even smaller HVAC, insulation, window, and roofing companies are having staff members credentialed to provide green services, such as energy audits. Arkansas is recognizing that it is time to update its energy policies and standards. Many organizations and individuals have embarked on community outreach to create consumer demand for energy efficiency and on lobbying legislators to update energy standards and help create green jobs. The local chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and the Home Builders Association has also promoted green- jobs training. Folks in the construction industry are starting to realize that the industry is changing, and that building green, energy-efficient homes is the right thing to do.

Public Outreach

The public is becoming more knowledgeable about green building and energy efficiency, even in existing homes. They are realizing the benefit of getting an energy audit. They are starting to think about getting their duct systems tested. Once the public requests these things, the trade industry will respond, and we are starting to see this in Arkansas.

Going Mobile

One of our jobs at the NWACC training center is to take training to other two-year colleges in Arkansas. This can be a challenge, since most colleges are not blessed with the in-house lab we have at NWACC. So we decided to go mobile. I ran into David Brown of the Energy Conservation Institute (ECI) at the 2011 National Weatherization Conference in New Orleans. ECI was demonstrating a mobile lab that meets all our training needs. Mechanically designed to operate like a traditional home, ECI Building Performance Labs allow educators to provide students with hands-on training and BPI field testing. Dozens of scenarios can be demonstrated in a fraction of the time it takes to do it on traditional site visits. And with full control of mechanical systems and lab pressures, instructors can create a learning environment that combines classroom lectures with hands-on training—all without ever leaving the campus. We determined that this was the direction our center needed to go. Now, when we train off-campus, we take our lab with us. Another challenge to training off-site is that many colleges’ liability insurance will not allow us to take students into a private home. The mobile training lab solves this problem, too. Also, the mobile lab is an excellent marketing and public outreach tool.

learn more

Rick Mayes
Director of Building Sciences, NWACC
One College Dr., Bentonville, AR 72712;
Tel: (479)936-5162;
E-mail: rmayes@nwacc.edu
Energy Conservation Institute
www.energyconservationinstitute.com

We have utilized the mobile lab at several home shows and other local events. Brown and ECI have been excellent partners. They come through beyond our expectations and deliver on every promise. ECI showcased the training trailer at the RESNET conference in Austin, Texas, in February. It’s nice for a two-year college in Arkansas to get some national attention! We feel we are growing a great training center, and with the addition of the mobile performance lab, we are on the cutting edge of training.

Future

We continue to find uses for the mobile lab. We use it for some aspects of our weatherization and RESNET training. The trailer is designed in such a way that we can add training options, such as videotaping, showing Power Point presentations, and so on. We’ve used it for hands-on demonstrations on dense packing insulation. We’ve even used it for IR camera training. If you don’t have the option to add an in-house lab, or if you’re looking for mobile training, I recommend that you talk to ECI.

Rick Mayes is the director of Building Sciences at NorthWest Arkansas Community College.

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