IREC ISPQ Down Under: a conversation with Geoff Stapleton

By Jane Pulaski

If you’ve ever met Geoff Stapleton, you’re not likely to forget him.  In addition to his Australian accent and outgoing manner, Geoff’s known for handing out fuzzy little Koala Bear clips (I’ve got at least three).   Currently, Geoff is the Managing Director of Global Sustainable Energy Solutions Pty Ltd (GSES), a renewable energy engineering and training company, specializing in PV design, solar training, publishing, and PV system audits.  GSES is currently the ISPQ Licensee for the Asia/Pacific Region.

Today, there are two IREC ISPQ regional licensees:  Asia/Pacific (GSES/Australia); and North America (IREC/US).  All licensees use the IREC ISPQ Standard 01022, and are responsible for the full accreditation and certification cycle including processing applications, assigning registered auditors, awarding the credential, and maintaining all records of applicants, candidates and certificants.

Here in the U.S., the North American IREC ISPQ licensee, IREC, is the most active of all the licensees.  Applications for the IREC ISPQ credential have steadily increased since 2009.   Currently, there are 126 certificants holding the IREC ISPQ credential in the U.S.

I got in touch with Geoff to find out how the IREC ISPQ credential is working in the Asia/Pacific region. Here’s our conversation.


IREC:  Geoff, you’ve been at this for a while now. When did you first get introduced to the IREC ISPQ credential?

GS:  I met Mark Fitzgerald, the founder of the ISPQ training credential, in D.C. in 1997. We were both on the same International Energy Association (IEA) PV Committee that focused on PV in developing countries.  In 2000, I was doing training in Sri Lanka with World Bank funding.  Mark came to assess my training, and that’s when I became a Master Trainer under a draft Standard that Mark developed under a World Bank funded project.   When I renewed my credential three years later, the IREC ISPQ Standard was in place, and I was certified to that Standard.

IREC:  The entire credentialing issue was in a very nascent stage here in the U.S. at that time. We know that IREC identified the issue of accredited programs and certified instructors to intelligently build a well-prepared clean energy workforce. It was a few years in the making here in the U.S., building the infrastructure, to where it is today. What was going on in your region at that time? Were you seeing enthusiasm for the credential in other countries?

GS:  Mark and I continued to work on projects together, trying to promote ISPQ within 21 countries in APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Community), but nothing really took off.  I promoted ISPQ in the 10-countries of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), even worked to set them up as a regional licensee.  We formed technical committees, and produced 11 regional competency standards, similar to the job task analysis (JTA).  We even helped them with a business plan, but it just didn’t take hold.  What we learned was that the countries really liked the idea of ISPQ, but most felt like it was more ‘cart before the horse.’  These countries had training, but what they really needed was help with that training.  Until they had a better training program, they couldn’t even think of becoming accredited by a third party.

IREC:  Definitely ‘cart before the horse.’  Has this happened? Has there been an improvement in the development of training in these countries?

GS:    I would say yes, in both Malaysia and Singapore, but in the other countries, it has still been project- based training as opposed to establishing ongoing training programs within training institutes (i.e., technician level training).  However, a number of the Universities in the region do offer renewable Masters courses in their engineering faculties.

IREC:  Sounds like it’s been an uphill climb to get buy-in for the value of the IREC ISPQ credential in this region. 

GS:  So far, the Malaysian Government is the only certificant in our Asia/Pacific IREC ISPQ region. Not a lot to show for years of work.   I began to promote ISPQ in China, and ISP had an office there for two years.  One training institute became accredited as a pilot project.  There was interest from other training organizations, but if the government doesn’t mandate it, it won’t happen.

IREC:  So how are things in Australia? Is it better there than in other parts of the Asia/Pacific region?

GS:  In Australia, all technical colleges must be accredited. Each industry sector has a national training advisory body that develops the national training packages.  And by the way, the essential knowledge and skills for these industries are very similar to the Job Task Analyses you have  in the U.S.  In 2000, renewable energy and efficiency began to be included in these training packages. In 2004, I worked with the government to compare the ISPQ Standard to the Australian National Quality Framework.

IREC:  What’s Australia’s National Framework like? Is it similar to the IREC ISPQ Standard?

GS:  Yes, actually the IREC ISPQ standard and the National Framework standard are very similar. In Australia, training institutes apply to be a Registered Training Organization (RTO) under the National Framework.  In fact, for all technical training that awards a certificate, it’s mandatory that it must be done by an RTO. The majority of RTOs are government owned, but some, like GSES, are private.  In fact, GSES is the only private RTO that offers renewable energy training.

IREC:  So if the National Framework and IREC ISPQ Standard are similar, does that make it harder to ‘sell’ the IREC ISPQ Standard?

GS:   In that work I did for the government back in 2004, the results showed little interest by the RTOs for another credential (that they’d have to pay for), since they already met the requirements under the National Framework.

IREC:  Sounds like a barrier, and could impede the growth of the industry in the region.  What about GSES? Will you become accredited to the IREC ISPQ Standard? 

GS:  Yes. Since we believe in the IREC ISPQ Standard, and because we push this with our overseas training, it’s important for us to be IREC ISPQ accredited, and not just have me as an Independent Master Trainer.  We’ll continue to promote it in our region, and identify local organizations that could act as a licensee.

IREC:  Any new areas you’re looking to work in?

GS:  The next area is the Pacific.  In fact, we’re forming Competency Standards Committees (i.e., Job Task Analysis) now.  A number of training institutes would like to see IREC ISPQ adopted for the Pacific Islands, which includes some 22 nations, though realistically, it would be years before they would have energy efficiency and renewable energy in their national training.  Actually, some  countries already have National Training Frameworks like Australia, and in these countries, it might be easier to help them incorporate renewable energy courses within their existing framework.

IREC:  Your work in the region to promote the IREC ISPQ credential has been challenging.  What’s the game plan for marketing it in the region? Don’t countries see the correlation between a quality training program and a highly-qualified workforce?

GS: It is fair to say that many countries see the link between quality training and a high qualified workforce and have programs helping them head in that direction but this is often required across many industry sectors so RE and EE training but not always take the highest priority.

The local industry association, The Sustainable Energy industry Association of Pacific Islands (SEIAPI), is introducing a certification scheme for technicians, one similar to the Australian scheme and NABCEP.   They will be requiring training to be of a certain level.  It’s even possible they might become the ISPQ licensee for the Pacific Region.

IREC:  That sounds very promising.  Perhaps if they take the lead, others will follow.     

Possibly.   The issue is the time and money required to promote and explain the value of the Standard to various stakeholders in each of the countries.  Nevertheless, we’re committed to the Standard, and we’ll continue to promote it.

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