NABCEP at 7; Its Positive Influence in Renewable Energy Workforce Development is Undeniable

In 2001, Mark Fitzgerald’s vision of an internationally-certified solar practitioner program was in the earliest ot nascent stages. The concept was solid and possible; actualization not quite ready for prime time.

Enter IREC, NYSERDA and DOE, coordinating, organizing, synchronizing, harmonizing, and otherwise taking charge, and by 2003, NABCEP’s first PV installer certification exam was administered.

Twelve exam administrations later, NABCEP administered the Solar PV examination, and its newer Solar Thermal examination, in 22 locations throughout North America on March 14, 2009; adding, says Rebecca Eaton, three locations beyond those initially planned as the demand for the exam continued to increase and applications kept pouring in.

NABCEP‘s Executive Director, Rebecca Eaton, talks about NABCEP…from its hopeful origins to its current status as a benchmark in renewable energy workforce development.

Applications for the NABCEP Solar PV and Solar Thermal examinations were up 61% over the previous exam administration in September, 2008. As a result, there are now 710 NABCEP-certified Solar PV installers and 97 NABCEP-certified Solar Thermal Installers throughout North America.

Obtaining the experience, knowledge, and training required to become eligible for and successfully pass the exam is a significant accomplishment.

Achieving NABCAEP certification is truly a capstone to a renewable energy practitioner’s career. Unfortunately, it can also be physically demanding as some of our test-takers have had to drive hours from their home, occasionally staying overnight near the test center to be ready for the four hour exam the next day. To increase the number and accessibility of testing locations throughout the U.S., NABCEP is exploring a shift to computer-based examinations in the near future. More information will be forthcoming as the organization refines its implementation plans for this shift.

In addition to its full practitioner certifications, NABCEP launched an extremely popular, course-driven Entry Level Certificate of Knowledge of Solar PV Systems in 2005. Interest in the Entry Level Certificate program continues to skyrocket, with NABCEP seeing the 2,000th individual recently passing the Entry Level test. Employers have been candid about the benefits they see to hiring employees who have obtained the NABCEP Certificate of Knowledge. They have stated that the Certificate “pre-qualifies” employees by demonstrating that they have a solid understanding of solar PV systems, the technologies and designs utilized on the job, and the renewable energy market in general. In addition, it demonstrates that prospective employees possess the initiative and drive required to pursue an Entry Level course and perform well on the test. In the first quarter of 2009 alone, 550 individuals passed the Entry Level examination, representing 41% growth over the previous quarter. There are over 90 Entry Level Service providers offering courses and the accompanying examination that addresses the ten learning objectives of the Entry Level program.

I often receive the question how NABCEP identifies new certification or certificate needs. In short, the ideas and suggestions come from a wide range of subject matter experts involved in different aspects of the renewable energy industry. Forty of those individuals participate are members of NABCEP’s Board of Directors or its Exam, Study Guide, and other Committees. In addition, a number of our Board members are active on renewable energy-related list serves, and NABCEP staff and Board and Committee members actively solicit feedback from installers, manufacturers, government representatives, customers, and others on a regular basis to monitor the workforce and customer needs of the renewable energy market. There is great interest in developing an Entry Level Certificate of Knowledge of Solar Thermal Systems, as well as new full certifications designed to meet the needs of new entrants to the renewable energy arena.

This is a great time to invest in training and either obtaining a Certificate of Knowledge or pursuing the complete certification, depending on an individual’s career interest, experience, and knowledge base. While the exact impact of the federal ARRA stimulus funds is not clear on the rate of new renewable energy installations, what is clear is that an increasing number of states are establishing renewable portfolio standards and putting incentives into place to encourage installation and use of renewable energy. There is only one way for the use of renewable energy in this country to go, and that is up, up, and away. When an industry undergoes rapid growth, it is particularly important that certification play a role in setting and measuring knowledge and competency standards. NABCEP will be there to meet the certification needs of the renewable energy industry during this exciting upward trajectory.

For more information about NABCEP, visit the website.


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