So you think you can join the solar workforce? Consider this.

 
By Lyra Rakusin, Senior Clean Energy Training Specialist, NC Clean Energy Technology Center

Deciding to have a career in clean energy is a bold move that brings many rewards. Aside from catering to our inner messianic complex, the clean energy industry is one of the fastest growing industries, attracting energetic, talented and very smart people. That being said, how do you get your name on the top of the applicant list?

Below are the three main categories of qualities that keep coming up when I talk to employers:

The Basics

 
This is the most critical criteria in getting hired. Not  meeting minimum requirements such as having a clean record and a driver’s license can keep you from your dream job. Another big category that can be hard to quantify but you know it when you see it are these so called “soft skills”. Soft skills are not apparent in a resume. But they come through during the interview and the first few months of employment.
 
Soft skills aren’t taught in classrooms. These are values and characteristics that have been shaped by family and friends, at the home and in the playground such as good grooming and dressing appropriately, showing up on time, respecting colleagues, and getting along with peers. When you’ve finally been hired, having solid soft skills that align with company culture are what keep you in the job and successful in a career.
 

Experience and Skill

 
When I moved to North Carolina in 2003, I wanted to go back to my main interest – water quality and hydrology. I had several “water” interviews but nothing came out of it. Finally, one of the interviewers asked me, “Why do you want this position when you have three years of energy work? You should do that.” And so I did.
 
Many people ask me for advice about getting a job in the industry because they don’t want to do their current jobs anymore. That’s great! But you should not discount what you’re doing now. A sales, construction, software or data management job has transferrable skills that are highly sought after by employers. Learn how to highlight desirable skills from another trade and talk about how your past or current experience adds value to the position you want.
 

The Gravy: Credentials

 
“Stay in School, kids.” We hear this all the time. But what this actually means is that we should all be lifelong learners. While many positions that have a ‘desk job’ will require a degree, what may separate you from the rest of the pack is stacking up on credentials. Having an electrician’s license or an engineering degree is highly desirable especially in the solar electric (PV) industry. And just like any other industry, there are many other positions outside the technical spectrum that require other skill sets like communications, information technologies, economics, and business administration. If you feel like there is no fit for you and your educational background, there are other easily attainable credentials that can be fulfilled by taking workshops and earning certifications that are industry recognized.
 
Here is the alphabet soup of the most common credentials in the energy industry:

  • BPI (Building Performance Institute)
  • RESNET (Residential Energy Services Network)
  • LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)
  • NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners)

 
These four are definitely not the only ones out there. There’s CEM (Certified Energy Manager) and other certifications of the Association of Energy Engineers, IGSHPA (for Ground Source Heat Pump installers) and a host of other credentials. For now, these are the common ones I will discuss.
 
Now that we have established some of the popular credentials sought by employers, next step is to figure out how to get them.
 
There are many public and private institutions that provide pathways to earn these professional designations wherein you can also pursue areas of concentration. To learn more about each of the aforementioned credentials, click on the hyperlinks. Each of their websites provide links to training providers as well.
 
In this article, I will discuss the pathways to credentials that the NC Clean Energy Technology Center (NC CETC) at NC State University can provide with its training programs.
 

Earning your Credentials with NCCETC

 
Choosing your training provider is a critical step in earning your stripes. There are many training providers out there in every geographic region. (Check out the Clean Energy Training Directory to find providers near you. For the best of the best, look for IREC Accreditation. We pride ourselves for having passed IREC’s gruelling accreditation process so we know what other IREC Accredited institutions had to go through.)
 
The Center runs an award-winning, IREC Accredited training program that provides continuing education credits for professionals, a support network of experienced renewable energy professionals, information on current policies and technologies (we run DSIRE, the national Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency), and for those who wish to complete it – a professional development diploma from NC State University.
 
Why go for the Renewable Energy Technologies Diploma? The Diploma Series was developed and launched in 2004. Before then, many participants of the Center’s workshops were enthusiasts who wanted to put solar on their own roofs. While it’s great that we inspired many DIY solar projects, what we really wanted was to have more renewable energy professionals. And to do that, we needed to offer in-depth training of each technology (PV, solar thermal, wind) so they can install it with confidence on someone else’s home, allow them to gain a broader skill set to offer a variety of clean energy services, and have hard evidence of what they’ve learned.
 
The workshops listed here are all part of the Renewable Energy Technologies Diploma Series. They can be taken as a stand-alone certificate program or as part of the Diploma. To earn the Diploma, you must complete 120 hours of the series’s courses. The 40 hour building programs we offer in partnership with Everblue include certification exams. The other renewable energy workshops provide pathways to be eligible to sit for NABCEP certification.
 
Below are the certifications and Diploma Series workshops to help you along:

NABCEP Entry Level (soon to be NABCEP Associate)

While this is not a certification, passing the NABCEP Entry Level Exam is a clear indicator to potential employers that you take initiative to learn and that you have a solid understanding of either photovoltaics or solar thermal design and installation. To take the NABCEP Entry Level exam, you are required to take a class from a Registered NABCEP Entry Level Provider. The following 40-hour workshops allow you to take the NABCEP Entry Level Exam:

     

  • REPV: Fundamentals of PV Design and Installation
  • REST: Fundamentals of Design and Installation of Solar Thermal Systems

 

NABCEP PV Installation Professional Certification

All candidates for the Solar PV Installation Professional Certification must have experience in the field acting as the person responsible for installing PV systems, a minimum of 58 hours of advanced PV training and an OSHA 10 hour construction industry card or equivalent. The workshops below will satisfy the 58 hours required by NABCEP:

  • REPV: Fundamentals of PV Design and Installation
  • REPV-A: Advanced Design and Installation of PV Systems

 

NABCEP Solar Heating Installer Certification

All candidates for the NABCEP Solar Heating Installer exam must have experience installing Solar Heating systems and a specified level of training or work experience. While training is not required for this certification, it is strongly encouraged – and likely necessary – to achieve a passing score. Taking the aforementioned REST workshop, combined with sitting for the NABCEP Entry Level Exam, may increase your chances of passing this ‘big feather test’.
 

NABCEP PV Technical Sales Certification

All candidates for the PV Technical Sales must have experience in the field selling PV systems, a specified level of training and an OSHA 10 hour construction industry card (or equivalent). There are many providers of PV Technical Sales training. Our training program, while it was developed according to the Job Task Analysis, goes beyond PV sales to cover residential to utility-scale renewable energy project development.  The CREM: Certificate in Renewable Energy Management is a 40-hour online and onsite program offered in the course of 4 – 6 weeks that covers technology, policy and finance topics, and requires the submission of a group project.
 

BPI Building Analyst Certification and BPI Envelope Professional Certification

In partnership with Everblue, the Center hosts this 40-hour workshop, which includes two certifications from the Building Performance Institute.  An energy auditor with BPI certification emphasize the ‘house-as-a-system’ approach to inspecting a home, meaning that all systems are interconnected, from the HVAC equipment, to the envelope, the foundation, walls, roof, doors and windows. Successful participants pass both a written and a hands-on field exam and earn a BPI Building Analyst Certification and a BPI Envelope Professional Certification.
 

RESNET HERS Rater

Another partnership with Everblue, this  40-hour workshop covers  a thorough review of basic energy concepts, field experience with blower door testing and duct blasting, training on the latest version of rating software, and performing a home energy rating and entering the data into REM/Rate. The course fee includes the HERS (Home Energy Rating System) Rater Exam.
 

Already NABCEP Certified? Here are courses that comply with your Continuing Education requirements:

 
Check here to see how many credit hours are eligible for your certification.
Now that you have the information you need to start this journey in the solar/clean energy industry, let us know how we can help. Start by sending me an email at lyra_rakusin@ncsu.edu.