Action needs to be taken by UK households to reduce energy demand and improve efficiency, but good quality advice is required to enable them to do this. At present there is a shortage of trained people to provide such advice, presenting an opportunity to create jobs while reducing both energy use and CO2 emissions.
National Energy Action (NEA) is a charity, founded in 1981, which since 1984 has offered an increasing range of training courses to equip people to advise households on energy efficiency and renewable energy, and to recognise and tackle fuel poverty.
If we are going to achieve the rapid progress needed in retrofitting our homes, we need to stimulate demand among home-owners. NEA is training the foot soldiers of the green energy revolution by developing a professional cadre of advisors equipped in the ‘soft skills’ needed to persuade home-owners to invest in efficiency improvements and renewable energy.
Ashden judging panel
If fuel poverty is to be reduced in the UK and CO2 reduction targets met, then the energy efficiency of the UK housing stock must increase, and households need to understand how to change their energy behaviour. National Energy Action is a UK leader in providing training to develop the skills in energy advice that are needed for this transformation to take place.
National Energy Action (NEA) is a charity, founded in 1981, that works to eradicate fuel poverty and encourage investment in energy efficiency to help bring affordable warmth to those who are poor or vulnerable. Its training work began in 1984, and runs alongside complementary campaigning, community engagement and research programmes. NEA works in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and co-operates with its sister organisation Energy Action Scotland to achieve national coverage. In 2012-13 it employed 64 staff, 45 of whom are at the Newcastle headquarters, and had a projected turnover of £3.2 million in 2013.
The training programme
NEA’s training programme has been in operation for almost thirty years, and over that time it has developed and adapted to suit changing needs and markets. NEA initially offered practical courses, such as installation of draught-proofing, but has increasingly taken the approach that these courses are better offered by industry. In 1989 NEA started developing training courses leading to nationally recognised qualifications in energy efficiency advice work, producing training and technical manuals, guidance notes and identifying areas of competence that could be examined. 33 training and examination centres were established and the industry began delivering courses in subjects such as installing insulation, installing draught-proofing and providing energy advice to households.
What makes NEA unique is their holistic view of energy advice. They can see things from the householder’s perspective and make it come alive somehow.
Ann Loughrey, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Scottish Power
In 1990, NEA started working with City and Guilds to develop accredited courses within the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) framework, including, one in Insulation and Building Treatments, and one called Provide Energy Efficiency Services, for advisors and surveyors. The former course is now run by the industry, but the latter has lapsed due to the creation of the Green Deal Advisor qualification.
NEA currently offers the following certified courses:
- Level 1 Introduction to Household Energy Efficiency, Level 2 Energy Efficiency in the Home and Level 3 Energy Awareness, which train students to advise households on topics such as the correct use of a range of heating and hot water systems, identifying opportunities to save energy and preventing condensation.
- Level 3 Renewable Energy in the Home, which enables students to explain renewable energy options to householders, including technology, financial incentives, planning issues and payback times.
- Level 3 Diploma in Green Deal Domestic Advice, which leads to student accreditation as a Green Deal Advisor, able to prepare Green Deal Assessments for householders.
- Level 4 Certificate in Delivering Energy Efficiency Projects, for advisors who already have a level 3 qualification (as above) and require a formal, higher-level qualification as they are managing or delivering projects.
Some of these courses are compulsory for workers delivering energy advice, and provide the skills and knowledge they need to carry out their work. NEA has the majority of the market in the level 3 courses it runs, and is the only trainer offering level 4 courses in energy efficiency at present. NEA delivers most of the training using its own staff, and has a selection of sub-contractors it can call on when demand is high. Courses run at NEA’s training centres in different regions, which provide students with a comfortable learning environment and access to hardware such as a wide range of heating controls and meters so they can be prepared for anything they might find when visiting households. Students are required to demonstrate a high level of competence across all aspects of a course in order to be awarded a qualification, to ensure that they are able to deliver reliable advice in the field.
NEA offers a wide range of short courses, from half a day to two days in length, designed to meet the needs of staff in voluntary, public sector and commercial organisations. These courses are usually delivered at the client’s premises, minimising travel time and cost. The courses offered have changed over the years in response to new demands and currently include:
- Elected members, to brief local councillors on energy issues and fuel poverty, equipping them to refer householders to sources of assistance on energy usage and costs, to make informed policy decisions and to recognise their duties relating to fuel poverty.
- Fuel debt advice, for advisors who may encounter clients in fuel debt, covering the causes of fuel debt, how to rectify common problems, options for paying the debt and sources of assistance.
- Fuel poverty and health, to brief health professionals on the causes of fuel poverty and how it affects health, equipping them to identify fuel poverty, to give advice on home heating and to refer householders for further assistance.
- Fuel poverty within social housing, for social housing employees, covering housing standards, Energy Performance Certificates, insulation, condensation and advising tenants on how to avoid getting into fuel poverty and how to deal with fuel debt.
- Introduction to energy awareness and fuel poverty, a general overview of fuel poverty, energy billing/payment issues, energy efficiency, renewable energy, condensation issues and grants.
- Modular energy awareness and fuel poverty, a modular course for charities, housing organisations, health organisations and community organisations, covering energy efficiency, renewable energy, fuel poverty, grants and more. Clients can pick and mix the modules.
- Introduction to renewable heat and electricity in the home, covering all the technologies for domestic renewable heat and electricity generation, including information on feed-in tariffs and what to look for in an installer.
- Train the Trainer for Community Engagement, for those working in the community on fuel-poverty and energy efficiency, focusing on presentation skills and facilitating group activities, enabling the participants to deliver better training to others.
- Smart meters, to help community groups understand the meters and be able to take advantage of their benefits, and to help smart meter installers identify vulnerable households and respond appropriately.
NEA is able to work with clients that have specific training needs to produce tailored products. These range from small changes to standard course content and delivery to fully customised learning solutions. NEA’s large library of course content and decades of experience in delivering training equips it to provide this service in a way that few other organisations could do.
NEA has partnered with Change Agents UK to offer a graduate trainee scheme, which includes NEA training and a 6-month placement with a local authority or housing provider. The organisation where the graduate is placed pays for the scheme, but is often able to access funding for this.
NEA offers a progression of training that people can follow. We know that NEA’s training is well-researched and knowledgable. It is practice based, not just theory based – backed up by their practical experience. They have shown that they can change and adapt as the market changes. Lots of their staff have been around for a long time – we know them very well.
Colin Macdonald, Tadea
How much does it cost?
Prices for the different courses vary, depending on where they are delivered and what level of accreditation is required. Some courses are run free of charge for community groups when NEA is able to attract sponsorship and all NEA members are eligible to receive discounts. Course fees also depend on the learning method and delivery mechanism, which could be in house, e-learning or under licence agreement with colleges and other training providers. For example, Energy Awareness open access places start from £654 per person; Energy Awareness in-house courses start from £4,778 for a group of eight. Green Deal open access places start from £1,200 per person (or £2,000 if they also required the DEA). Green Deal in-house courses start from £7,403 for a group of eight. In-house half day courses start from £1,080 and in-house 1-day courses start from £1,336. (all prices are plus VAT).
Since NEA started offering training courses, over 20,000 participants have completed the accredited courses in energy awareness, renewable energy in the home, with 1,000-1,200 more completing courses each year at present. Participants on the other courses have totalled over 15,000, with a further 1,500-2,000 being added annually. 23 graduates have been given placements so far on the recently introduced graduate trainee scheme.
While it is impossible to know how many of the participants from earlier years are still making use of what they learned, it is clear that most of them attended the courses to enable them to carry out their work, paid or voluntary, or to help them secure work within the energy efficiency industry. Over the years NEA has instigated a number of programmes to tackle fuel poverty. Programme delivery has been managed by partner organisations, many of whose staff have been trained by NEA, and over 7.5 million households have been assisted as a result.
This course is a great opportunity to get a general grounding in a topic that matters to everyone.
Angeline, NEA trainee
The majority of people trained by NEA provide advice that helps householders change their energy behaviour, improve energy efficiency or install renewable energy equipment.
Households in fuel poverty may take some benefit in terms of warmth, but evaluation studies have shown that there are also CO2 savings achieved by the poorest households, although an exact amount cannot be quantified.
Many of NEA’s training courses are intended to help people recognise and tackle fuel poverty in the households they encounter through their work, leading to significant financial and health benefits for the individuals that then receive this help and advice.
Economic and employment benefits
NEA’s courses support employment in the energy sector, as many of their trainees need to complete their courses in order to be qualified for their job. Others undertake training to enable them to find work, and some have been helped out of unemployment by being given free or sponsored places, particularly when fuel poverty schemes were run during the 1980s using the intermediate labour market and employment training schemes. The areas in which trainees work include energy company call centres, debt advice, Citizens Advice Bureau, health and social care, environmental health and companies installing renewable energy or energy efficiency equipment. Many in the energy advice sector believe that the career of ‘professional energy advisor’ exists because of NEA’s work on training in this area.
Gaining an NEA/City and Guilds qualification helped my employability. I would recommend the course to anyone wanting to gain a better understanding of energy use in the home and especially to those pursuing a career within the realm of energy efficiency.
Daniel Curry, Senior Energy and Fuel Poverty Officer, Change Agents UK
NEA is continuing to develop its training work, updating courses, creating new ones, and looking for innovative ways to deliver training. Recent developments include:
- Pilot training courses for Green Deal Advisors have been run in partnership with Asset Skills, with 43 Assessors trained by NEA, and this course is now offered nationally by NEA as a level 3 certificate qualification.
- A fuel debt advice course has been piloted in limited areas. NEA continues to receive enquiries about this course, and intends to develop it into a formally accredited level 2 certificate qualification aimed at debt advisors.
- The ongoing roll-out of smart meters to households will create a need to train advisors so they can help households make the most of their new meters – NEA is working on developing course material to address this need.
- E-learning courses have been piloted and will be available from 2013. These will allow participants who cannot travel to get training remotely, and will also enable update training for those who have attended courses in the past.
- NEA is also expecting increasing demand from the energy industry, where employees that already have technical skills need training in the ‘softer’ skills to enable them to give better advice and identify vulnerable customers.
- 22% of NEA’s income currently comes from training, and this proportion is growing as the organisation seeks to reduce dependence on work funded through government grants.