Posted on 20-Apr-15

Never written a Blog before? Well neither have I. But when I received an invitation from IACET, I decided to brave the new world of blogging by sharing my recent experience addressing the age-old question of ROI on training and education. Are we getting the performance we want from our learners, and how do we translate this into ROI for the decision maker – in my case, the learner’s boss? My experience derives from the work of my organization, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Council, administering a national workforce training program to improve energy efficiency in the built environment. Comprised of residential, commercial and institutional buildings, the built environment consumes 40 percent of our nation’s overall energy consumption, equivalent to $1,600 per capita annually.


Source: U.S. Department of Energy, 2014

Much of this energy is wasted through poor infrastructure (leaky doors and old equipment) and lack of proper operation and maintenance (lights are on when no one’s around). Addressing energy waste involves two factors - technology and practice (people). The good news is there is no shortage of resources for building owners to get on the path of managing energy use and controlling utility costs.

Our training program is one of those resources. Called Building Operator Certification - BOC - we train building technicians for certification in an industry-recognized skill standard for energy efficient building operation. The training is classroom-delivered using a combination of lecture, group exercises, project assignments completed at the home-facility, and end-of-training-day assessments. Our learners are knowledgeable and experienced mechanics but may not be performing their job through the lens of energy efficiency. BOC aims to get them there, and to do that, we need to measure how they perform on the job following certification.

How do we do that? With the support of BOC program sponsors and stakeholders, an extensive body of third-party evaluation research has sought to estimate the energy savings impact realized by training building technicians through BOC to employ energy-efficient practices. The research methodology relies on an approach that combines the self-reported behavior of building operators with engineering estimates of the associated energy savings. Results are compared to a control group of non-certified building operators to further isolate the impacts that are linked to BOC training alone. Self-reported changes in behavior have their shortcomings, and some recent studies have gone so far as to address this by making site visits to observe changes in practice. The research methodology steps are described in aninformative paper published by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. I recommend it as a good read for educators interested in evaluating performance outcomes of their training initiatives. The overall approach appears to be replicable for other education and training programs.

What did the research conclude? Six independent studies found BOC-certified operators are saving energy for their companies to the tune of $5,000 to 15,000 annually on electricity and fossil fuel costs. That translates to an ROI for the employer of 25% to (a best case) 275%, factoring in tuition, time away from work, and travel to attend training. Where can CFO’s make investments with these kinds of returns?

Finally, ROI rarely ends with dollar benefits. Skilled and credentialed building technicians make our built environment work better for occupants whether it’s a better learning environment for school children, good air quality in a patient room, or a more comfortable office for the budding Blog writer.

Cynthia Putnam
Project Director
Northwest Energy Efficiency Council

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