Step 4: Establish Baseline Quality Workforce Standards
Guidelines for Energy Upgrade Professionals
These guidelines include standard specifications for quality work; critical tasks and core competencies for effective training programs; and a framework for professional certifications. The guidelines can be referenced as a source for identifying an acceptable level of quality in home energy upgrade work.
Quality workforce standards require contractors to adhere to a set of business practices that help them provide high-quality professional services to customers. These performance standards help ensure that contractors deliver an acceptable level of quality to building owners, while also weeding out unqualified contractors.
Identify the Scope of Quality Workforce Standards
Quality workforce standards can include specifications for the following:
- Relevant experience: Describing past energy upgrade projects and other similar types of work contractors have completed, and/or providing references.
- Technical certifications: Having key personnel in a firm or on a work crew who have achieved appropriate technical certification (e.g., BPI, RESNET).
- Training: Specifying the amount of training that firms need to provide to their employees before they work in consumers' homes or buildings.
- Warranty service. Providing warranty services on energy efficiency upgrades over a specified duration.
- Company accreditation. Achieving recognition for having quality management plans in place across the company, in addition to qualified technical professionals.
Accreditation vs. Certification
Individuals receive certification, but companies can receive standards-based accreditation. Accreditation ensures that additional quality assurance protocols are in place within a company, including independent third-party job inspection and a feedback loop that can be used for continued quality improvement. By using a quality management system, accredited companies deliver consistent high-quality service, reduce callbacks, and increase profits.
What you learn about your existing workforce under Step 3 (Know Your Existing Workforce) can help you determine how to develop your quality workforce standards and to whom they will apply. For instance, if your area lacks experienced energy upgrade professionals, adjust your requirement for relevant experience accordingly and/or consider investing more heavily in training to ensure that the workforce will be able to meet your standards in a reasonable period of time.
Be flexible. If you are concerned about alienating contractors because of what some may view as overly strict program standards, consider minimizing the requirements for becoming a participating contractor, but publicize the complete qualifications of all participating contractors. Alternately, some programs have chosen to establish a scoring system for publicizing participating contractors based on a set of rigorous standards or customer feedback.
Seattle's High Standards
Seattle Community Power Works' "Community High-Road Contractor Pool" uses a point system to qualify contractors for the program.
The application features a number of minimum required standards for contractors wishing to compete for work under the city's Community Power Works programs. A few examples are:
- Key staff, such as a crew chief, supervisor, or any other onsite supervisor, must have BPI, North American Technician Excellence, or Laborers International Union certification.
- The contractor must have performed at least two residential retrofit projects as a licensed contractor that required two or more of the following skills: dense-pack insulation, air-sealing, duct-sealing, blower door and pressure diagnostic testing, and installation and ducting of ventilation fans.
The application scoring criteria enables contractors to earn points for meeting additional requirements. Applicants can receive partial points for future commitments to specific standards. Below are a few examples.
- Maintaining a 100% certified workforce under BPI, North American Technical Excellence, or the Laborers International Union.
- Providing 80 hours of classroom/workshop training in energy efficiency or construction to each employee within the last year.
Set Standards for Professionalism and Customer Interaction
In addition to standards relating to technical knowledge and skills, standards governing professionalism and contractors' interaction with homeowners are also important. You might want to consider developing a code of behavior that contractors can follow when working with homeowners.
Advancing the Workforce
When designing its program, RePower Bainbridge understood that establishing standards for contractor participation was important; however, it didn't want workforce standards to keep contractors from getting involved. To help tackle this issue, RePower Bainbridge interviewed contractors who had shown interest in the program and gauged the level of training each had received. Based on these interviews, program administrators determined that requiring certification from the beginning would be disadvantageous. RePower Bainbridge also held follow-up meetings with contractors prior to program launch, during which contractors voiced their concern that requiring BPI certification would prohibit them from participating in the program in the near term.
RePower Bainbridge decided that contractors could enter the program without BPI certification but would be required to become BPI-certified by a specific date. Contractors that fail to receive the certification by that date are removed from the program but can participate again if and when they are certified.
RePower Bainbridge has established a team of qualified energy advisors whose role is to provide support, quality assurance, and feedback to noncertified contractors to ensure that their work is done right. Noncertified contractors have a direct line to energy advisors who are available on the job site to answer contractors' questions, share their knowledge, and ensure the quality of the work being performed. RePower Bainbridge also holds a series of technical trainings for these contractors. Following the trainings, energy advisors provide jobsite assistance for a three- to five-week period.
Customer Satisfaction Counts
Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska's, reEnergize program furnishes its contractors with the Energy Upgrade Contractor Protocol and General Scope of Work. These guidelines cover everything from how to greet the customer to what steps should be followed during cleanup once the job is completed.