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IRA Passage Highlights the Need to Innovate Training, Industry Inclusivity

  • 1.  IRA Passage Highlights the Need to Innovate Training, Industry Inclusivity

    BPA Staff Member
    Posted 10-20-2022 11:59
    By Xavier "Zave" Walter

    Now that the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has been signed into law, $200 million is available to state energy offices for training and education to contractors involved in the installation of home energy efficiency and electrification improvements.

    Yes, that's historic and exciting. But for this money to make the most impact, our industry needs to rethink training and work on inclusivity. Here's how.

    Rethink Training

    Trainers should rethink their models of education relative to building science credentials. Those that rely upon intense classroom training and curriculums from 2007 need to retool and refresh their businesses to accommodate the new reality of our job market. Building localized multimillion dollar training facilities in one place may work for a while, but what happens when that region doesn't need certifications or technology changes?

    This is especially important in areas where geography is an impediment to inclusion like most of rural America with little to no energy saving activities. A new training facility may not need to reinvent the wheel of credential training and workforce development practices already perfected down the street at the local technical school. Having students sitting on a zoom for eight hours a day for five days does NOT count as online training, nor do the vast majority of people even learn that way.

    Technology today enables us to build out prolific automated learning management systems that can create content that is easily digestible, modular, accessible, and accountable. When the candidate shows up for field training or testing, they are more prepared, and have a higher propensity for success. The ability for a worker to advance their career at their pace, on their schedule has even been established by the US Military as an effective tool for advancement. While serving, a member of the Armed forces is required to fill out their Basic Military Requirements (BMRs) at their pace, and this classwork is prerequisite to promotion. It’s a book with quizzes at the end, and now probably available online. If we can better prepare our workforce coming in, let them earn while they learn, and give them a path to follow that is scalable and sustainable.

    Teaching existing workers and employers that their business is an energy efficiency business is one of our greatest challenges. While public awareness amongst workers that their job impacts the heath and efficiency of a home is gaining, many are still in the dark about how their own trade has evolved with time and technology. There is a national crisis preventing homes from being weatherized, and that is the number of homes being deferred or declined weatherization services for a myriad of issues (see pie chart to the right). Utilizing existing trades and incorporating them into the whole-house process provides an opportunity for training across the construction industry.

    The High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Program (HEEHR) in IRA is focused on upgrading electrical services, water heating, and appliances. Workers in these areas are not typically associated with traditional efficiency rebate or credentialing programs. Continuing education has not historically been a requirement in the trades, and many people forgo the opportunity to prove their competency through certification. This is a golden opportunity to connect those from outside of the industry and give them the opportunity to better assist their customer or grow their business. Helping workers understand that by taking care of that leaky roof, or fixing a dangerous wiring situation, they are improving the life of the occupant, and enabling weatherization that lowers their energy burden and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

    Continue reading on the BPA Journal

    Macie Melendez
    Editor in Chief, Building Performance Journal
    Building Performance Association
    Moon Township PA

  • 2.  RE: IRA Passage Highlights the Need to Innovate Training, Industry Inclusivity

    Posted 10-21-2022 08:12
    Great points here Zave!  Some thoughts on your post from an OG -
    We saw how the push for training and credentialing Building Analysts during the ARRA funding was a total failure.  Displaced workers being offered (sometimes mandated) to attend "Green Job Training" in order to keep their unemployment benefits coming resulted in lots of certified individuals who had nowhere to go with this newly found skill.  And without any sort of mentoring program or plan in place to help these newly certified individuals who had NEVER installed one liner foot of spray foam or had the privilege of putting their foot through the drywall on an insulation job, these poor souls were set up for failure.  WAP programs were in disarray, states were offering prospective HP businesses thousands of dollars to purchase necessary blower doors and thermal cameras and duct blasters.  5 years later we were buying this equipment on Ebay for pennies on the dollar.  Most of those certified through free money are long gone, back to their original desk jobs or framing homes or who knows where they are.  Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it (not sure who penned this, but this is not one of mine!)  

    Rethinking Training
    IMHO, here is no amount of classroom or virtual training you can provide that will have more value than on the job training.  There are many successful HP companies throughout the country that may be open to the concept of being a Boot Camp type of training facility.  I for one would welcome the opportunity to host a couple individuals, whenever they can get here that a prospective HP company may want to be mentored in the auditing (translate sales) process, more OJT in deep air sealing processes and job management, test out procedures or any other help we can provide as mentors.  Believe it or not, one thing that stumps many getting started in this industry is how to set up a job truck.  A good scope of work begins with the proper auditing techniques and technical writing skills (huge advantage to those who posses good writing skills).  Current training may touch on this, but not enough.  I have enough audits on a weekly basis to provide anyone wanting to learn, the opportunity to shadow, set up testing equipment, go through the steps to thoroughly and efficiently evaluate the home and involve the homeowner in that conversation and prepare and present a comprehensive report that details most importantly the reason for the audit and any other items we find that can help them grab as much efficiency out of their home as possible and convert that audit to a completed job.  
    The main obstacle to this type of training is getting these people to the location of the OJT.  The available funding for training could certainly be utilized for travel, hotels and meals as well as funding a paycheck for the person in training as well as a stipend for the company doing the hosting.  Using a rifle approach like this will produce a more informed cadre of individuals who are already invested in the industry instead of the shot gun approach of let's certify as many as we can and see who stick around (been there, done that).  And oh yeah, I offered this type of mentoring in the last iteration of funding and was summarily dismissed by those in charge at the State level. 
    Your pie chart is spot on.  The way I see it there are at least 4 other trades that need to be involved in bringing deferred homes to a level that weatherization can be addressed.  Who will coordinate this work?  Who will write the scope of work?  An experienced, well trained HP company can, and should be the general contractor for these homes that can direct the work towards the goal of having the home prepared for weatherization.  One problem is very little of this funding can be put towards any of the issues that keep a WAP home from being weatherized.  Qualifying audits prior to the actual energy audit are a necessary evil in that world.  If a home needs too much work this company needs to know what, if any, other local, state or government programs exist to refer these homeowners to.  You will never get an electrical contractor, carpenter, plumber or any other trade that may be necessary to resolve these issues to buy into the altruistic value of this work.  They are all in business to make a profit.  If rewiring a home or upgrading an electrical panel doesn't cover overhead and make a profit, no one is showing up for that job.  Another big problem with WAP programs is often times they don't pay in a timely manner.  I my area no one gets paid until the job has been finialed.  From the original auditor to the QCI inspector, this could take weeks or months to final.  Job failures at final test out, contractor call backs, coordinating with client for scheduling all delay the final approval of the job.  Then factor in the paperwork processing time once final is submitted, movement to that job to finance and the time it takes finance to pay the invoice, a contracting company could easily be so deep in debt with material, labor and their overhead before they get paid, they bail on the contract being owed 10's of 1000's of dollars.  The inhouse WAP model works much better than sub-contracting out the work, which is how they do it in my area.  Why?  No qualified or experienced workers to get it done in house.  Round and round we go!

    I submit the underserved and neglected sector of this market ARE NOT those at some % of poverty.  This community has had, and will continue to have, the lion's share of local, state and federal funding since I started in this industry over 35 years ago. IMHO, the underserved and neglected community are those that do not qualify for assistance as they may fall just above that level.  Sorry, no soup for you!  My HP business thrives on the clients that have the ability to stroke a check and pay for all of it or can utilize the equity in their home or can get an energy efficient loan to pay for what will make their homes healthier and comfortable (note I did not list more efficient, that doesn't sell).  If I can fix the mold issue in the crawl space or even out the heating and cooling distribution issue with the duct work or get the 2nd floor to cool and heat easier, or stop the floor from being cold or stop the drafts the end result, in each and every one of these fixes is lower carbon footprint and energy usage (need to be careful about saying you can lower the bill as we are about to be hammered with high energy costs across the board this winter).  You can retrofit the home all day and when costs of energy rise, the bill may not go down.  This sector does not have deferral barriers and are looking to and willing to get this work done.  Fewer contractors need to be involved.  Perhaps more of this round of funding can trickle down to this sector of the market and you will see the number of deep retrofit jobs increase tenfold.  Here is Delaware we have a very robust auditing and HP rebate program that is well organized and offers significant rebate amounts that motivate those who have the resources to move forward with this work.  Hugely successful and providing profitable retrofit work which allows us to hire and TRAIN the workforce.  The WAP sector will always have the funding, with or without ARRA or IRA funding which come with the parasitic cost of over staffed and payroll heavy administration (topic for another post!)

    Path Forward
    I am ready and willing to offer mentoring services and provide the necessary on the job training of which I speak.  Anyone care to join me?  There's plenty of funding.  BPI Certification is one trail, there are others available.  The path will not be easily traveled.  A paradigm shift in how we train, certify, promote skill sets and divvy out funding needs to take place before we can gain the traction we so desperately need. Setting up a business to survive without government funding is paramount - Heck it's easy to sell rebates, much harder to go it without.  It has been and can be done.  There is now a powerful springboard for those willing to take the path less traveled.  Those who set up to survive after the funding goes away (ala ARRA era funding) will be and asset on many levels to HVAC contractors, mold remediators and homeowners looking to provide a healthy and comfortable home for their family.   


    Allen Luzak
    Home Performance Consulting L
    Lewes DE