Solar PV Training and Employment
It would seem logical to assume that since the Solar PV industry is growing at such a robust pace, there should be plenty of jobs available. That is a correct assumption, but there is a gap between the need for workers and the need for a well-trained work force. The old adage is; you need experience to get a job, but you can’t get experience without a job.
Fortunately, almost all prospective PV employers understand that in this industry, the training comes first, and it’s usually enough to get you started.
There is one sure way to bridge the gap between experience and employment: training and networking.
The first step is to get training from a recognized and competent solar training company. Be sure that it is an accredited solar training program that will be recognized throughout the country. The second step is to get experience, and there is more than one way to get it.
- Find out where the solar PV contractors gather; associations are the best place to look. The American Solar Energy Society has state chapters all across the country, and most have regular meetings every month or two. It is very affordable to join an association, and the meetings are a perfect place to get to know the solar contractors and business leaders. Take the time to get your foot in the door and be willing to be time-flexible when someone approaches you about working together – because someone probably will.
- If you are already in the construction industry, it is a short segue into the PV industry with proper training, and you can expand your business quickly, and with relatively little financial investment.
- Start your own company. Starting any business is easier said than done, but many people do it quite successfully. If you have an entrepreneur’s spirit and the determination to get a company rolling, this is a good choice. Check the laws in your state to determine if you need to have licensing prior to installing PV systems.
- The “hybrid” start. Many people intend to start their own installation companies, but want an installation or two under their belts before doing so. Working with an existing company on a project-by-project basis can help you get a little experience before you go out on your own.
- Install a system on your own house (or a relative’s). You will learn just as much about installation, and you have your own PV system and some experience at the end of it.
One of the best ways to become valuable for a long-term career is to attain an industry certification. NABCEP has several certification programs; Solar PV Certified Installer, Solar Thermal Certified Installer, and Technical Sales Certification. Each of these certifications requires experience that can be obtained by either working as a self-employed, or working for a solar contractor. Familiarize yourself with NABCEP at www.nabcep.org.
You can’t get NABCEP Certification without meeting their criteria, and no training company can certify you. The industry leaders know this, and are willing to help you on your path to Certification. After all, with a few exceptions, they pretty much had to get their certification the same way you will. They can work with you on a “project-by-project” basis, or hire you full-time or part-time. Each company is different, but almost all are dedicated to the industry, have high standards, and are willing to help new installers learn.
Beware of training organizations who sell up their “Job Programs” or placement assistance. It sounds great to you before you pay your training tuition, but it’s mostly talk with very few programs actually putting people to work in the solar industry. If you find work through them, it will usually be an unpaid position as an apprentice. Don’t be sucked in to “We help you find a job.” Training companies can point you in the right direction and have contacts in the industry, but they aren’t job placement organizations.
The truth is that it takes time and dedication to retrain yourself into any industry where you are readily employable. If you want in the solar industry then be persistent and you’ll get in. Thomas Edison once said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Important links for more information:
North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (to determine eligibility requirements for NABCEP Certification)
Interstate Renewable Energy Council (to verify accredited training programs)
American Solar Energy Society (to find a chapter to join nearest you)