The Micro Movement – Filling Big Shoes

When spring finally settled on New England earlier this year, I joined friends in a round of beer from a local micro-brewery. The pale ale with citrus and malt undertones was delicious and promised hints of summer. When the dog days of August hit, I devoured a honey-lavender ice cream cone at a local micro-creamery. Another gourmet delectable from a micro enterprise. Back at my desk, I follow the progress that micro grids have realized building resilient electric power infrastructures with clean energy distributed resources.

Notice a theme? The “micro” model has shown to be an effective alternative, filling big shoes in different ways. Hardly second tier or junior varsity, micro concepts are fast becoming a viable way of moving products, services and practices into action.

At IREC we asked, why couldn’t this micro idea apply to credentials? Where full scope certifications are sometimes slow to develop, could a micro-credential act faster in response to market realities and be more flexible in the rapidly growing, complex clean energy sector?

Never shy when it comes to weaving quality performance and assurances into clean energy markets, IREC began a 15-month investigation of what a micro-credential could look like. Rule #1, we don’t want to compromise quality. Rule #2, we want to see if a validated process could be put into play that requires less time and fewer resources (aka, less money). Rule #3, don’t forget Rule #1.

After many individual conversations with our colleagues in the credentialing and clean energy industries, IREC invited a group of experts to a summit in Washington, DC to put this micro concept on the table and see where it landed. With results in hand, we then sat down with certification and psychometric experts and started mapping out objectives and defining a process.

We envision a micro-credential as an opportunity for individuals to demonstrate competency in a specialty area. Candidates for a micro credential may or may not be in the core profession but some portion of their job might call for specific knowledge and skills to safely and competently perform that component of their job. It could recognize practitioners in clean energy fields by identifying new specialty skills for a specific occupation, or it could recognize professionals in other fields that in some way touch clean energy. For example, a micro-credential that covers O&M could be developed for a solar installer. A micro-credential could be developed for local code officials who are part of the inspection and permitting process for solar installations. In this case, the focus is on an add-on skill for the part of their job that requires knowledge and skills related to a specific clean energy technology.

As a result of meetings with Professional Testing, Inc., we designed a stepped and timed process to develop a micro-credential. To test our thinking, we entered into a pilot with two home-focused occupations in different industry sectors – home energy performance and health. We sat with the Building Performance Institute (BPI) and the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative to pinpoint the intersection of the home performance professional and the healthy housing professional. This resulted in defining the job function of the new “Healthy Home Evaluator,” whose responsibility will be to assess and characterize home-based environmental health and safety hazards, and to communicate those risks and hazards to the occupant with the goal of improving health and quality of life. In other words, this would bring together the energy side of the house with the health side of the house. The Healthy Home Evaluator micro-credential will be an add-on for BPI’s Building Analyst Professional and Energy Auditor Certifications.

We’ll have more to report as the pilot continues and develops the assessment and administration of the micro-credential.

For now, our message is straightforward. If developed in alignment with a valid process, a micro-credential is not a second-rate designation but one that announces the achievement of skills and competencies for a clearly defined specialty function of a job.

Copyright: maxym / 123RF Stock Photo

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Jane has been the President and CEO of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. since 1994. From 1985 until 1991, she was the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Photovoltaic Center. In 2004, Jane was elected an America Solar Energy Society's Fellow. She serves on a number of boards including the National Advisory Board for NSF's ATE CREATE and co-chairs ANSI's Energy Efficiency Standardization Coordination Collaborative, Working Group 5. She has been chairing the national Clean Energy Workforce Education Conference since 2006. Jane has been invited by the Congress of the United States to provide expert testimony before the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment to discuss workforce development and training issues. Jane received the prestigious Charles Greeley Abbot Award from the American Solar Energy Society and the Renewable Energy World's Leadership Award in policy. She has published papers and spoken widely on topics in the field of renewable energy, photovoltaics, public policy and credentialing. Jane is based out of Boston, Massachusetts and is an avid Red Sox fan.

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