After a few days in the classroom, all four Non-Domestic Energy Assessor (NDEA) trainees who’ve been shadowing me were feeling confused, deflated or poorly equipped to enter the sector.

They’re intelligent people with a desire to learn and some had forked out thousands of pounds of their own money on a course but were frustrated to find the support was lacking and felt unprepared to conduct their first building assessment. They had pretty much been told to get on with much of the study alone.

I appreciate the reason for these short courses – evidently, getting the most amount of information across in the shortest possible time at the lowest cost. But with the confidence and knowledge deficit I’ve witnessed, it could be argued that these trainees are being mis-sold on the learning curve required and, while they might get a qualification, they risk coming out as only half-formed NDEAs.

The accreditation schemes’ support network is also questionable. One of these trainees had called the centre’s tech support with problems but hadn’t received a response for a week because, I suspect, fully fledged Energy Assessors are being prioritised, leaving trainees stuck out in the field waiting for much-needed help. And it’s not just the NDEA course that’s falling short. Trainees are bombarded with information on the four-day SAP course but getting minimal support, while I know those on one accreditation scheme’s auditing course are taught about finding ways to pass an audit, not fail it – lowering the bar when the fail rate for a newly qualified NDEA is already about 40%.

It’s almost laughable that candidates are still being told that they need an understanding of the Green Deal when the government scheme ended in 2015. Granted, this is part of the qualification criteria, but the awarding bodies or indeed Asset Skills don’t appear to have the appetite to update their qualifications so they are more fit for purpose.

When I was training 15 years ago, we spent a whole day devoted to surveying two buildings. It wasn’t an easy task to chaperone 40 people into manageable groups, but it was an important way for them to see how an Assessor worked the building before they got the chance to measure up themselves. It also helped trainees create a neat survey and, if necessary, for us to amend their working styles. Even a qualified engineer might not have had to draw a square box before or grasp the ‘frame factor’ of window design and subsequently how aluminium or wood can produce a different thermal performance.

Working alongside these four trainees recently has only reinforced my view that training courses are failing candidates and storing up trouble for the sector. They are simply not delivering to a high enough standard, particularly when even those keen newly qualified Assessors who are being audited – despite schemes looking for ways to pass people – are still given a fail. It’s concerning that new trainees wouldn’t know the difference in quality between a superior and budget course and might only appreciate any deficiencies when they started work. Such poor foundations create a lack of confidence in both the Assessor and clients where, following a Quality Assurance Audit, the EPC rating is found to be a considerably lower rating, say an F rather than a B. It’s a very difficult conversation for a newly qualified Assessor to have with their client who now finds that the lease was granted with a sub-standard EPC and would have to spend a considerable sum of capital to improve the building. But not only that, the conversation the landlord will now have to have with the tenant.

Training centres need to listen to candidates’ concerns and heed warnings from Assessors like me who have worked with them. Courses that are advertised for those with no prior experience necessary where teachers rush through the topics badly need to be longer, more robust and cover more topics so that candidates start to build confidence and competence, not become deflated by the volume of information and patchy training delivery. Qualifications also need to be reviewed with the assessment criteria amended so that they are more relevant and current.

Energy Assessors need to understand their purpose, be engaged, passionate and enthused – and this will either be stimulated or depressed during training. Meanwhile, clients need Energy Assessors who know their stuff so they can trust them to deliver a high-quality service. EPCs will evolve as the methodology is updated and Assessors will need to keep abreast of these changes. Those who have been trained to tick boxes with little care for the impact their service has on the industry will undoubtedly be left behind or have to go back to the classroom – piling on more pressure for courses to deliver.

I believe that if we don’t urgently improve the next generation’s learning experience, the current skills gap will only grow from a crack to a chasm.

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