Underwriters Laboratories (UL) offers licensed electricians its PV System Installer certification. Like the NABCEP PV Installation Professional certification, candidates for UL certification must document safety training and pass a solar-specific exam. Unlike NABCEP certification, UL does not require documentation of experience as a PV installer.
While certification may not be required to access solar incentives in some jurisdictions, installation professionals may pursue this path as a way to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Professional certification can demonstrate to an employer that the installer is ready for a larger leadership role or it may serve as a marketing tool if the installer wants to start their own business or qualify their existing one.
Obtaining a professional credential requires on-the-job experience and often requires completion of formal solar training. For industry positions that require higher than entry-level technical expertise, there are solar-specific courses at community colleges, private training organizations, trade associations, and through manufacturers.
Keep in mind that there can be a significant difference in the quality and value of training programs and instructors. Research the training institution, instructor, and course syllabus to be sure that you are getting the training and industry acceptance you need.
If you plan to use the training to qualify for certification or licensure, be sure to review these requirements. NABCEP requires a specific number of course hours to qualify for certification, and the course content often must be aligned with the relevant job task analysis.
IREC’s credential for training programs and instructors can be helpful in selecting a solar training provider. IREC accreditation signifies that the training program has met a rigorous third-party standard in curriculum delivery and program administration. Experienced instructors with subject-matter expertise can become IREC certified. While an IREC credential does not guarantee that a training program or instructor is better than their uncredentialed competition, it definitely means that the credential holder meets industry-developed standards.
Amidst the considerations of credentialing and training, it is helpful to know what jobs might be available. If you are interested in a solar manufacturing job, for example, the number of opportunities will be heavily dependent upon location. Visit the Solar Foundation at solarfoundation.org to view its Solar States Job Map, which illustrates the current number and types of solar jobs within each state.
If you have enough experience to look for a job, focus some of your energy on networking. Over half of the solar firms in the United States rely on word-of-mouth and referrals for finding candidates. Let people in your social and professional circles know what you are looking for. If you have friends in the solar industry, seek their help in finding your position. Even if they are in another state, they may be able to link you up with professionals in your area. Since the industry is still relatively small, solar professionals tend to network extensively across the country. These professional relationships can be huge assets in your job search.
If you don’t know anyone in the industry, it is important to start meeting a few. Consider these approaches:
Contact area professionals. Cold-calling strangers can be difficult, but people tend to be pretty open if you ask them for advice rather than a job. You can find local installers using NABCEP’s database of certified professionals, through state energy offices, or with a Web search. Research each company’s website, including job postings. If no one in your area is hiring, contact some of the installation companies and ask about what they look for in an employee. Remember that their time is valuable, so keep the call as short as possible. Another approach may be to contact a trade association, such as a local Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA, seia.org) or American Solar Energy Association (ASES, ases.org) chapter. Installers may also be found through solarreviews.com and findsolar.com.
Attend networking events. Many organizations and communities organize energy fairs or expositions. These are great opportunities to meet local professionals. Again, many companies are there to sell systems to the public, so respect their time. See whether there are any “green drinks” social events in your area, where individuals interested in sustainability gather to talk shop and network.
Social networking. Online social networking is a supplement—not a substitute—to building professional networks. Activity on social networking sites can help keep you abreast of developments and opportunities in your local industry. Social networks can also help you obtain some visibility, though you’ll want to be sure that anything you post is beneficial and not an annoyance or a liability as you further your career.
Finally, you may find that a great investment in a solar job is to design and install a system at your home. You’ll learn some nuances of system installation and operation, accelerate your learning, and gain hands-on experience that is critical for any role you might take in the solar industry.
Vaughan Woodruff is a NABCEP-certified solar heating installer and trainer based in Pittsfield, Maine. Vaughan has been intimately involved with SITN, IREC, and NABCEP in various capacities.