Seeing our trainee Non-Domestic Energy Assessor (NDEA) Mark struggle to uninstall and reinstall software so he could submit energy calculations sums up my mounting frustration with the issue of training and skills in our sector.
His tech headache was caused by the unnecessarily complicated way in which his training course provider demands trainees submit their Level 3 and 4 portfolio. Like other training qualification companies, it seems to assess candidates based on their ability to input information into software. However, without being tested on his ability to interpret the results of an assessment or indeed provide evidence of how to improve the EPC rating or make the specification compliant, it leaves him exposed and unable to properly support landlords and developers in meeting their legal obligations. As an employer of someone with a Level 4 qualification (which is akin to a first year bachelor’s degree), I expect there to be a degree of knowledge and understanding in problem solving, or am I expecting too much?
The same is true for Domestic Energy Assessors and On-Construction Domestic Energy Assessors (also known as SAP Assessors) trainees as well as those in other related sectors including Air Tightness Testing, according to one of our trusted partners who attended such a course. Why don’t the training providers deliver this? While it may or may not be a requirement of the qualification, it should be included in the course delivery to better prepare candidates. When I was delivering the NDEA qualification between 2008 and 2015 – a good 10 years before MEES came along – I included tasks for candidates to make improvements to their models.
It’s clear that these courses aren’t delivering the confident and robust trainees we need. But it hasn’t always been this way. The City and Guilds qualification (which I was involved in developing in 2012) had a requirement for candidates to explain their report and why a building was or wasn’t compliant. I think it’s now time for Asset Skills to take the bull by the horns and revisit the assessment criteria, particularly as so much has changed in the property market since these qualifications were developed. If they are to be fit for purpose, they really do need an urgent review.
Surely candidates should be assessed on their ability to provide an explanation about the reasons behind an EPC grade and the benefit of any potential improvements. I accept that back in 2007 and 2008 the government needed an army of energy assessors to capture the EPC data on every building being sold or let in the UK to satisfy the EU Directive. However, while there is still a demand, more regulations have been introduced since then, such as Minimum EPC Regulations as well as tighter Building Regulations and an increased focus on environmental issues, which means there really needs to be a training programme that reflects a more challenging sector.
I worry that if we focus simply on banging out lots of EPCs and delivering newly trained assessors with limited abilities, we could be heading for another PPI scenario. Think about it: what if a new assessor persuades a client they need £100,000 worth of PV on their roof, then a few years later, another assessor tells them they only needed to have spent £10,000? It gets even more complex with level 4 new builds where architects need to ensure they’re compliant with part L of the Building Regulations. If an Energy Assessor messes up an assessment – unbeknown to the developer who goes ahead with a £2 million scheme which is then found to have insufficient insulation – it could result in the assessor being sued for giving the wrong advice or negligence. I can just imagine the daytime TV adverts: “Were you miss-sold an energy assessment?”
The sector’s reputation is at stake. Energy Assessors aren’t like gas fitters who can be paid with a simple call-out fee; we should be regarded as a respected profession and that starts with providing robust training and qualifications. A Non-Domestic Energy Assessor only requires one week of classroom training (Level 3 Certificate is 30 guided learning hours and 300 total qualification time, while Level 4 Diploma is 195 guided learning hours and 430 total qualification time) to become qualified with no prior experience while other service industries in the built environment sector demand far longer training, for example architects (5+ years), chartered surveyors (5 years), mechanical and electrical services engineers (5 years), and building control officers (2-5 years following a HND qualification). Meanwhile, decent £30k+ salaries for a NDEA are comparable to some of these other roles despite the short qualification time – although of course you still have to put the effort in to continue learning and keep up-to-speed with new rules and legislation.
If NDEAs want to be recognised and respected, then they need to have a deep understanding of the EPC methodology, building costs, energy costs, carbon emissions, implications and impact their assessment can have on property transactions, valuation, compliance, and so on. While the profession should be painted as attractive and I’m very keen to attract more Energy Assessors, it’s important that we don’t devalue our role. I’ve recently been irked by the attitude of those who want to retrain seemingly so they can fit in measuring a few buildings between a yoga class and walking the dog.
It’s also not just about the training curriculum but the aftercare and available support. While we at Murton & Co provide Mark with plenty of on-the-job training as he hones his craft, hundreds of other trainees and newly qualified assessors rely on support from their accreditation scheme, their training course colleagues or Facebook groups. A good case in point is a plea from one new NDEA in a Facebook group who’s looking for some mentoring. He’s carried out a few assessments but realises his training course only covers a fraction of what’s needed to do the job. Much of this knowledge will be gained through experience and while he builds that, he wants an Energy Assessor to run a quality control check on his work. (It’s interesting that he’s reaching out to other NDEAs in a Facebook group rather than his training provider. Perhaps he didn’t feel it appropriate or might have approached them and they didn’t offer this service.) This sensible chap’s experience illustrates that there’s a real opportunity for training companies to up their game and provide more in-depth courses that produce Energy Assessors who are properly qualified to tackle clients’ diverse needs.
Mentoring is a great way to provide that support as they start out, but work experience and apprenticeships are also good options – along with my long-held dream to open a Murton & Co training academy…