In response to industry feedback on gaps in the clean energy credentialing landscape, IREC has worked behind the scenes with a myriad of partners for the past three years to develop a valid and trusted framework for high-quality micro-credentials.  Today, we see emerging as a pressing priority quality third-party validation of specialty skills both for clean energy allied professions, whose jobs “touch” renewable or energy efficiency technology in some way, and for add-on skills for full-scope credentials that currently exist within the clean energy professions.

IREC’s latest clean energy micro-credentialing initiative is in conjunction with the National Apartment Association Education Institute (NAAEI) and is in the final stages of a pilot project to develop an energy efficiency micro-credential for apartment maintenance professionals. This project – the first since issuing our original case study on micro-credentials in 2016 – provides another opportunity to test and validate the process of creating a new credential, to ensure that the end product is rigorous and credible.,

Building on NAAEI’s existing credentialing framework for a Certificate for Apartment Maintenance Technician  (CAMT), the new micro-credential validates test takers’ energy efficiency skills and knowledge of building systems, climate considerations and apartment building types in which NAAEI’s members work.

The newly created designation, CAMT+E, uses the carefully crafted framework for micro-credential development designed by Professional Testing, Inc. (PTI) and IREC in 2016.  Subject matter experts (SMEs) from the Association for Energy Affordability, Inc. (AEA) and NAAEI’s members from apartment management companies across the country teamed up on this project to identify the add-on energy efficiency competencies a certified CAMT should be able to demonstrate in order to attain the CAMT+E credential.

Drawing on best practices enshrined in ISO/IEC 17024:2012, the process incorporates many of the features of task analysis, content validation, and test development found in a full-scope Job Task Analyses (JTA) certification scheme. However, given the narrower scope of a micro-credential, many of the steps have been pared down and streamlined to allow it to be generated more quickly and for a lower cost than a full-scope credential, without compromising quality.

Eight months in the making, the CAMT+E micro-credential project was made possible by funding from the ACT Foundation’s National Network of Business and Industry Association (NNBIA) 2016 Innovation Awards.

What have we learned to date?

A white paper to be released later in 2017 will take a deeper dive into lessons learned from the second implementation of IREC’s micro-credentialing framework. Below are some of the key preliminary findings from our evaluation process for the CAMT+E micro-credential initiative.

  • Estimated timelines for micro-credential development project design were validated. While the IREC / PTI model could potentially be implemented in as few as four months, seven to eight months was consistent with our expectations to complete CAMT+E, based on the broader scope of content compared with other potential micro-credentials.
  • Writing test items ran four weeks longer than planned, even with training and other SME support. The increased time is partly attributable to revisiting the content outline as knowledge and skills became embedded in practical applications through the item writing phase. There are also inherent complexities in developing content using remote tools versus costly in-person meetings. IREC has developed new strategies to help SMEs with writing test items.
  • Guided discussions about how a new micro-credential might impact existing credentials should be built in from the beginning. Any micro-credential developed alongside or from an existing credentialing scheme should complement and support, not undermine, the credential it is founded upon. If an alternate or additional pathway to eligibility for the new micro-credential is needed, this should be worked through early in design to ensure that prerequisite knowledge and skills are accounted for.

The next set of questions that the CAMT+E micro-credential project has placed in motion have to do with stackability. NAAEI views the new micro as part of a series of professional development opportunities for apartment maintenance professionals that could potentially lead to a new professional designation.

Creating stackable micro-credentials that can be achieved either in sequence or ad hoc as workers advance in their career sets up exciting new career pathways and opportunities for professional development. Solving preliminary questions around how stackable micro-credentials interact with each other in terms of sequencing and prerequisites will unlock another area of significant potential within high-quality micro-credentials, and this is an avenue that IREC is looking forward to exploring in the short-term.

Overall, IREC’s latest micro-credentialing efforts have once again highlighted how agility and quality can be balanced to bring competency validation tools to market in a timely manner, and for a lower cost than full-scope JTA certification schemes. This meets industry needs both for upskilling incumbent workers and those in allied professions.

The success of the CAMT+E initiative to date has been the level of employer engagement in the micro-credential development process, thanks to NAAEI’s dedicated membership and their commitment to the project. IREC thanks our CAMT+E partners at NAAEI, PTI, AEA, and the SME volunteers who worked diligently to craft the function definition, content outline and exam.

IREC is proud to support this professional development opportunity in the clean energy arena for apartment maintenance workers throughout the country. And we look forward to sharing further insights from the evaluation of this and other micro-credential projects in future publications.

Image: Essay on Time