25 January 2010

HSA delay

Happy New Year to you all. This has been a busy time for me, but hopefully, things will be calming down over the next couple of weeks.

As some people know from meeting me in real life, I have taken a course to become a Home Sustainability Assessor, under the Australian government's Green Loans programme to help householders become more energy- and water-efficient. The process of becoming a HSA has taken longer than I expected, not least of which due to the fact that the police records office, despite my explicit forwarding instructions, sent the certificate of my police check to my home address while I was on holidays. However, with that minor setback behind me, I was set to register with ABSA and get started.

On Friday afternoon, I got a troubling email from Alison Carmichael, CEO of ABSA, some of which I will republish here:

When the Green Loans program and the Home Sustainability Assessment Scheme were set up in the first half of 2009 both DEWHA and ABSA thought the program would be a success if there were 2000 people working by the end of the first year. It has certainly been extremely well received by both assessors and householders, surpassing all expectations.
To help manage assessor numbers ABSA announced to the industry in early November that new applications would only be accepted until 21 January 2010 from those candidates who had completed their training by December 24, 2009.
This action did not have the intended effect of limiting the number of applicants to a sustainable level. Unfortunately the program had been so extensively promoted by third party organizations that ABSA received a large number of applications before, during and after Christmas, the result being that ABSA is now holding over 5,000 new applications awaiting processing.
As each application must be checked individually, ABSA is having great difficulty processing these applications on a timely basis. The administrative load is such that we have also found it very difficult to respond to personal communications from our existing members and applicants and so, if you have had difficulty contacting us during this time, we apologise.
ABSA recognizes that all those applicants who are awaiting processing have already spent money on training and professional indemnity insurance, but it seems counterproductive for ABSA to accept applications and take further fees from a large number of people when there is no guarantee or assurance of any particular volume of work under the Green Loans program.
For this reason we are offering you the opportunity to withdraw your application before we take payment. You may do this by e-mailing ABSA on [withheld]. To ensure we can match the information, be sure to use the same e-mail address you have supplied us with for our database. ABSA will then return your complete application (including application fee) by mail on a priority basis.
If, given the information above, you still wish to proceed with your application please send an email from this email address to [withheld]
In this instance the program may still end but you will have been admitted as a member of ABSA and therefore eligible to receive ongoing communications from us about emerging programs in this new industry sector. You can expect to receive your assessor number within 3 weeks of your email response.
I wonder how many people were as disillusioned as I was to read this. The impression that I got was that ABSA expects its applicants might just give up the lot because of the impending glut of registered assessors. However, most of us have invested a great deal of time and many thousands of dollars to join the assessor scheme, and I imagine that very few of us would be willing to write that off in one fell swoop. The aforementioned email will reduce the number of outstanding applications, but not necessarily by a significant amount.

One wonders what will happen next. With so many new assessors in the field, the pool of funding for household assessments will dry up pretty quickly for those of us just getting started, and it will be years before new assessors are required. It also bodes badly for the rumours of additional training for existing assessors being funded in the future; suddenly, that costs five times as much as they expected a year ago.

It would be a shame, though, for the programme to be put on hold because of this development. It is clear that the "green collar" job market has no shortage of interest from the general public, even among those without formal training in this area (the HSA course had no prerequisites for training or education); to that end, we might see more such programmes in the future.

That said, the federal government doesn't have the best record when it comes to the environment. The real damage would be not just to see the HSAS wither because of a lack of funding but to see it used as an excuse not to fund other programmes. It wouldn't be the first time a government initiative was cancelled because it was too successful, but in an election year, anything could happen - and nothing could happen.

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