Fuel Cell Systems Technician

Recognized Skill Standards
May 13, 2008


The emerging field of fuel cell technology is important to the Texas economy in a number of ways. In the publication, Fuel Cells: A Technology Forecast, by Technology Futures, Inc. and Texas State Technical College (TSTC), it states, "there is considerable interest in the state in establishing Texas as a premier fuel cell player." (p. 13) The report lists several state government activities to encourage the development of fuel cell technology in Texas, including a Public Utility Commission of Texas White Paper that "presented a discussion on the attractiveness of fuel cell systems for the state, described the obstacles to state development of a fuel cell program, presented a roadmap for the establishment of a vibrant fuel cell industry in Texas, and offered an outline of legislation that would provide incentives for fuel cell development." In 2002, the Texas State Energy Conservation Office submitted a plan to the House and Senate energy committees "for accelerating the commercialization of fuel cells in Texas."

In 2004, the Governor launched a comprehensive economic development strategy based on strengthening the competitiveness of key industry clusters. The industry cluster initiative requires the state to develop strategies to address economic growth and job creation issues. Energy is one of the industry clusters identified by Governor Perry, of which hydrogen-based energy initiatives are a significant part of the energy profile for Texas.

Texas is creating a path to acceptance of fuel cell technology as an energy source. As these efforts create results over time, demand for qualified technicians to maintain and repair fuel cell systems can be expected to grow steadily. As is common with emerging occupations, there is currently no Bureau of Labor Statistics classification for the Fuel Cell Technician occupational area. The closest descriptor found in the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition, discusses electrical and electronics repairers of powerhouse, substation, and relays who inspect, test, maintain, or repair electrical equipment used in generating stations, substations, and in-service relays. These workers may be known as powerhouse electricians, relay technicians, or power transformer repairers. In Texas, these workers earn an average hourly wage of $28.28, according to the Texas Workforce Commission's labor market data.

Project Goals

The project goals were:

  • Identify voluntary skill standards for the fuel cell systems technician occupational area to serve as benchmark for entry into this occupational area and to serve as guides for curriculum development of community and technical college programs of study that will effectively meet the needs of both the newly graduated entry-level worker and the seasoned professional returning to education to upgrade his or her workplace skills.
  • Publish and promote the results and support the use of skill standards by educators, businesses, unions, students, workers, and government agencies.

Development and Validation Methods

A job analysis was conducted in 2003 which resulted in the creation of a DACUM chart of duties, tasks, skills, and tools. The skill standards developed in this project used the 2003 DACUM as the job analysis method, as suggested in the Guidelines for the Development, Recognition and Usage of Skill Standards.

Duties and tasks were transcribed from the DACUM as Critical Work Functions (CWFs) and Key Activities (KAs) respectively. A group of subject matter experts (SMEs), led by Larry Alford of Texas, all of whom participated in the original DACUM development sessions, was convened via teleconference. The SMEs validated that the DACUM elements were transcribed accurately and, where it was necessary, aggregated appropriately into CWFs and KAs. During the teleconference, a discussion was facilitated between the SMEs to develop and define consensus-based performance criteria for each of the KAs.

Following the teleconference, SMEs were asked to respond to surveys in order to define consensus-based knowledge, skills, and conditions (tools) for each of the Key Activities (KAs). Those knowledge, skills, and conditions that 50% or greater of the respondents indicated as necessary to each KA were included in the skill standards.

An additional survey asked SME respondents to rate the complexity of each of seventeen academic and employability knowledge and skill areas. Respondents rated complexity on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 indicating low complexity, and 5 indicating high complexity) and the average of the responses was used to indicate the complexity level the CWF required of each knowledge or skill area. Where the average indicated a fraction, the survey criteria indicated that the nearest whole number would be used.

Finally, SMEs reviewed hard copy compilation of the skill standards elements defined in the teleconference (Critical Work Functions, Key Activities, Performance Criteria) and resulting from the surveys (Knowledge, Skills, and Conditions; and Academic and Employability Knowledge and Skills ratings.) They were asked to verify that all elements were captured and documented as discussed in the teleconference, to review and comment on proposed statements of assessment, and to indicate their validation by signing-off on the document.

In any skill standards development effort it is critical to consider the views of all of the participants to ensure that the outcome reflects a truly consensus-based effort. The expert panel was a very cohesive and well acquainted group. The only controversy that arose related to the level of definition of critical work functions. The group initially leaned toward defining the critical work functions at a higher, less defined level. For example, the group believed that a fuel cell technicianâ™s work functions are commissioning, maintaining, and decommissioning fuel cell systems. After some discussion, the group agreed to break out the maintenance functions into more definition for the sake of clarity.

The Fuel Cell Technician skill standards contain nine critical work functions in the areas of commissioning and decommissioning fuel cells, safety, diagnostics and repair, overhauling, and conducting maintenance on various internal systems including electrical, water treatment, fuel delivery, and thermal.