The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) released the Better Buildings Workforce Guidelines on March 9th as part of President Obama’s Better Buildings Initiative, a nationwide strategy to make commercial and industrial buildings 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020.

The voluntary guidelines aim to improve the operational performance of schools, office, hospitals, and other commercial buildings by providing a national framework for workforce training and establishing consistency among certification programs. They are the first national guidelines for energy efficiency–related professional credentials.

Developed with industry trade associations, governing credential boards, and energy efficiency advocates, the guidelines pertain to four related jobs: energy manager, building energy auditor, building operations professional, and building commissioning professional. NIBS defined a set of necessary skills, knowledge, education, and experience for each of the position titles, as well as certification schemes that outline eligibility criteria and prerequisites, exam structures, re-certification requirements, and learning objectives for training programs. The guidelines will be integrated into new or existing certification programs for identification as a recognized provider. The DOE will now recognize competency-based certification programs that successfully implement the new guidelines and achieve third-party accreditation. 

Addressing the country's aging workforce is one of the three key priorities that the NIBS Consultative Council outlined in a January report on its concerns for the building industry. In the report, the council states that the next generation of available laborers do not yet have the necessary technical training to replace the skills of the workers who are reaching retirement, in part because “America is underestimating the value” of a vocational education. One of the council's recommendations is that members of the building industry—including skilled tradespeople, builders, contractors, and code officials—establish mentoring programs and collaborate with the education community to support technical and vocational curriculum. Industry leaders, such as employers, businesses, builders, and manufacturers, should work to educate the public about career opportunities and the availability of training programs. Though the guidelines are voluntary, they could serve as the basis for the designation of qualified personnel by owners and through codes, regulations, and incentive programs.

The goal of NIBS and DOE credentialing now is to support the organizations that want to achieve accreditation and to strengthen outreach to educate the industry on the new program's opportunities, says NIBS program director Roger Grant.

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