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Job Task Analyses Define the Home Energy Professional

February 25, 2013
March/April 2013
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Cosmetologists, warehouse workers, corrections officers, veterinarians … these are examples of the thousands of occupations that utilize a job task analysis (JTA) to define their profession. What is a JTA? Good question. It’s a question that the home energy industry has needed to ask for a long time. Before we answer that question, let’s get some perspective.

The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) is the largest whole-house energy retrofit program in the country. Traditionally, WAP has relied upon training from within the program to ensure the competency of its workforce. A network of highly skilled trainers and weatherization training centers has delivered training to the national network of local agencies. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), with its $5 billion cash infusion and million-home target, created an immense need for newly trained workers as the program ramped up its production to unprecedented levels. This need outstripped the capacity of the traditional training infrastructure and created an opportunity for other training organizations to provide services to WAP. What had historically been a training landscape in which trainers, local agencies, and state offices all knew one another suddenly became a marketplace with dozens, if not hundreds, of organizations selling their training services to WAP, its grantees, and its subgrantees.

The informal feedback loop that had always been in place to verify the quality of the training was deformed with the influx of many unknown entities. This lack of knowledge regarding the qualifications of the various training programs created an environment in which program administrators, contractors, and workers had no way to ensure that they would receive high-quality training services. This uncertainty in WAP echoed a need identified by the Council on Environmental Quality and in the larger industry for a way to recognize high-quality training (see “learn more”). The home energy upgrade industry was lacking a basic component of many other industries—a mechanism for ensuring that the workforce was being trained to a nationally accepted standard. While WAP had been doing good work and training its people for decades, it had never been necessary to formalize the work of a WAP practitioner. Weatherization had grown from a small government program that taped plastic over clients’ windows in the early 1980s to the largest and most technically advanced home performance workforce in the country. With the passage of the ARRA, what had been a little-known program suddenly became one of the most scrutinized organizations in the country. It became quite clear that the program needed to define itself and the work that it did.

What was needed was an objective measure of the quality of the work, the ability to train individuals to do that work properly, and a mechanism to certify workers based on their skills. The Guidelines for Home Energy Professionals project is WAP’s response to this need. The Guidelines project has three components:

  • Define the Work. The Standard Work Specifications (SWS) define the minimum acceptable outcomes for any weatherization or home performance task to be effective, durable, and safe.
  • Validate the Training. The JTAs for the four major energy upgrade job classifications define what a worker needs to know and do. The four job classifications are Retrofit Installer Technician, Crew Leader, Energy Auditor, and Quality Control Inspector.
  • Certify the Worker. The Certification Blueprints synthesize the content of the SWS and the JTAs to lay out a road map for developing robust worker certifications.

While the focus of this article is the JTAs, it is important to note their place in the overall project. They are built on the SWS and in turn form the foundation of the certification effort. The JTA helps to define the requirements for assessing and credentialing practitioners—ensuring that a common thread runs throughout the Guidelines project.

The JTA conveys to the world that an industry has the ability to define its work and what it expects of its workforce. It is high time for our industry to take the steps necessary to demonstrate the professionalism and high standards that our folks showcase every day.

You may have been asking yourself, “So how is this Guidelines effort different from the certification or training offered by [insert home performance certification or training body here]?” The difference lies in the JTAs that are used as the basis for these certifications, how they were developed, and the specific type of worker they were developed for. WAP is certainly aware of the other products in the marketplace offering certifications that are related to the work performed by the program. And while these products all have merit, none of them had a JTA developed specifically for the work performed in WAP. Additionally, none of them had a JTA of a quality that could pass muster with organizations that oversee the quality of certifications, such as the American National Standards Institute. This has changed in the time period since the Guidelines effort began. There are now certifications available in the home performance industry which have achieved ANSI accreditation. However, none of the existing products were lined up with what WAP workers actually do on the job.

The Office of Personnel Management defines a JTA in this way: “A job task analysis identifies the competencies/KSAs [Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities] directly related to performance on the job. It is a systematic procedure for gathering, documenting, and analyzing information about the content, context, and requirements of the job.” In layman’s terms, this means that a JTA is a formal way to analyze and document what a person needs to know and be able to do in order to engage in a particular occupation. It is one of the fundamental requirements of any profession that expects to be taken seriously. The JTA conveys to the world that an industry has the ability to define its work and what it expects of its workforce. WAP has been in existence for over 30 years and the home performance industry for nearly that long. It is high time for our industry to take the steps necessary to demonstrate the professionalism and high standards that our folks showcase every day.

Now that we know what a JTA is, it is worth asking what it’s good for. Is it just a bureaucratic hoop to jump through, or does it have some real value? To get at that answer, let’s look at exactly how the four JTAs created for WAP were developed.

To arrive at a high-quality JTA, the kind that can be used to build other products indicative of a profession that has its act together (such as accreditation of training programs and professional certifications), you really need a psychometrician. A psychometrician is a professional who specializes in ensuring the validity of products related to testing and evaluation. Since the development of a JTA is often the first step in creating a test or evaluation, psychometricians are used to oversee the process.

JTA development follows the DACUM (Develop a Curriculum) process—an occupational analysis method that can be applied to the development of training curricula, among other things. A small group of subject matter experts led by the psychometrician catalogue the knowledge, skills, and abilities required of a particular home energy professional. This work is then validated by conducting a survey of professionals in the field. These professionals examine the work and critique it. The end result is a document that outlines all of the major tasks that the professional performs on the job, along with the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to carry out those tasks. There is also an exam blueprint, which ranks the tasks by their importance. This ranking, or weighting, can then be used to develop exams that accurately reflect an individual’s ability to perform a job, and training curricula that are targeted to the most important skills.

With accredited training programs and certifications based on the JTAs, weatherization and home performance contractors will know the caliber of the people they are hiring; consumers will know that these workers have proven that they know how to do the work right; and workers will have the mobility that comes with being nationally accredited.

Pat Fox, director of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) credentialing program that accredits energy efficiency training programs based on the four WAP JTAs, puts it this way: “Teaching a course which is based on a valid JTA ensures that students are learning the skills and knowledge they need to be successful on the job. The JTA is an essential element in quality training and serves as a bridge in workforce development between the needs of the industry and the skills in the workforce.”

It is clear that the JTAs are a vital resource in developing a robust home energy industry—not just bureaucratic hoops to jump through. As the foundational building blocks for the accreditation of training programs and the credentialing of workers, the JTAs make it easy to recognize a well-trained and credentialed workforce. “A credentialed workforce is another sign of the maturing weatherization and home energy upgrade industries in the United States,” says John Davies, senior trainer and manager at the Building Performance Center. “The four new weatherization job certifications help ensure that those who do this important work are both knowledgeable and experienced in the often-complicated world of home performance. I am convinced professional certification is good for consumers, workers, and employers.”

learn more

View and download the Job Task Analyses.

Council on Environmental Quality. Recovery Through Retrofit. Washington D.C.: White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Vice President’s Middle Class Task Force, 2009.

Delegated Examining Operations Handbook: A Guide for Federal Agency Examining Offices. May 2007.

If weatherization and home performance are truly to be a defined industry, and if we are to realize the opportunity of millions of underperforming homes feeding into a robust economy of workers, manufacturers, and trainers, then the industry must begin to speak with a unified voice and a uniform understanding of what a home energy professional does. The JTAs catalogue the skills and knowledge that a practitioner needs in order to perform a given job effectively and safely. They define what a home energy professional needs to know in order to do work right. They may not provide everything the industry needs to perform high-quality home energy upgrades. But having industry-accepted JTAs gets us a long way toward that goal.

 

Jennifer Somers is the team lead for training and technical assistance for DOE’s Weatherization Assistance program (WAP). Josh Olsen is a training and technical assistance specialist with WAP.

Josh Olsen and Jennifer Somers will be presenting at ACI's National Home Performance Conference, April 30–May 3 in Denver, Colorado.

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