competenceWhat is the difference between a certificate and certification? Is it better to pursue an AAS in HVAC, or one of a number of dueling industry certifications, and what do either mean about a contractor’s ability to adequately service my boiler? As a hiring manager for a PV installation firm, which certifications or degrees should I require to ensure my employees are competent to perform their work?

It’s easy to see how employers, students, consumers and others could be flummoxed by the profusion of credentials in the market. For students, a variety of choices make it difficult to select high quality training and chart a pathway to a successful clean energy career.

Some of the nation’s leading thinkers in workforce and academic credentialing are finding a way to help. The Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, funded by the Lumina Foundation and sponsored by 40 national organizations, has undertaken an effort to reimage the U.S. credentialing framework to focus on and more clearly represent student learning. A cornerstone of this effort is production of a Credentials Framework that positions competency – what the learner knows and is able to do – as a tool and ‘common language’ to compare and understand credentials.

Why is this common language important? Promoting a better understanding of the role and meaning of credentials can help employers better match open jobs with worker competency. It will help students maximize their investments in training and credentials, and more easily gain recognition for prior or on-the-job training. It will also facilitate workers having more defined career pathways, with ‘stackable’ credentials to support lifelong learning. And it will provide a means for academia, industry and others to more easily communicate about learning outcomes, regardless of context or where learning occurs.

We see education and training in the U.S. trending to student-centered, competency-based learning (see Anna Sullivan’s article referencing the buzz in the home energy sector around this topic). Building on this trend, efforts like the Credentials Framework ensure that the meaning of credentials are transparent and clear to stakeholders, can be compared or translated to contribute to new learning opportunities, and can build upon one another, where relevant.

The benefits of us all speaking a common language will include greater access for students and workers to training and career opportunities, and enhanced recognition for those who pursue market-valued credentials. Quality training programs, like those holding the IREC credential, will be able to more easily demonstrate their excellence and how their programming correlates to other elements of the clean energy framework (worker certification, etc.)

IREC looks forward to our continuing role in this national dialogue. We also constantly look for ways we can promote a robust clean energy credentialing framework. You’ll hear from us soon about exciting new projects that we expect to have national, cross-sector impact, in addition to directly benefitting IREC credential holders.

In the meantime, please keep the good ideas coming.

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