Texas electricians get solar training under NABCEP’s Alternative Experience Pathway

ImagineSolar in Austin, Texas, is the first in the U.S. to offer a training program to qualify electricians for the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) new Alternative Experience Pathway program.  Can’t say I’m surprised.

It was just January 2010 when ImagineSolar, the Austin Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (AEJATC), and the Austin Workforce Investment Board received a $4.8 million Department of Labor grant to train current and future workers in Central Texas, with skill sets ranging from unskilled labor to highly skilled electricians. The project’s targeted Construction Wiremen/ Construction Electricians (CWCEs), Apprentices, and Journeyworker Electricians represent three occupations – and three opportunities – on a single career ladder in a growing industry. The jobs for these workers are directly tied to utility-scale and commercial solar projects with the AEJATC’s twenty-two electrical contractors.  AEJATC’s connection with labor (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 520) and area contractors (National Electrical Contractors Association) are a direct link to employment.

Solar in Austin has been on the uptick for awhile.  Michael Kuhn, President and CEO of ImagineSolar, along with CH2M Hill’s, John Hoffner, helped establish Texas’ first solar curriculum at a community college back in 2004.   Kuhn and Hoffner were leaders in establishing the first solar incentive program in Texas with the City of Austin.  Both Kuhn and Hoffner are NABCEP Certified PV Installers; Kuhn is also an ISPQ Master Trainer (PV) – one of only 17 in the entire U.S.

So in May 2010, when the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) launched its Alternative Experience Pathway (AEP) for electricians to satisfy the experience requirements to sit for the NABCEP Certified PV installer exam, it began to look around for the right venue to pilot this new program.  It didn’t have to look very far.

According to Ezra Auerbach, NABCEP’s Executive Director, ImagineSolar was the perfect choice to pilot the AEP because of ImagineSolar’s partnership with the AEJATC and its IBEW and NECA partners.  “Even more important is this: 20 percent of the eligible candidates who qualified to sit for our national PV certification exam on September 11, 2010 came through this Alternative Experience Pathway pilot.  That’s a pretty good indicator that this program is working; really bringing well-qualified journeyman electricians into the solar industry,” Auerbach said.

Auerbach was in Austin recently to visit ImagineSolar, and to speak to some 35 students on the last day of ImagineSolar’s PV 201 class.

Since July, the course has been offered twice, and 24 journeyman and master electricians have completed ImagineSolar’s 120 hours of a multi-course training that ends with its PV 330: Project  Field Experience Workshop.  According to Kuhn, the extensive curriculum includes hands-on installation experience of PV electric systems based on the NABCEP Task Analysis and ISPQ workforce education best practices.  Two PV 330 classes have been held so far; there’s one more scheduled for March 2011 in preparation for the March 26, 2011 NABCEP PV certifying exam.

Later in September, ImagineSolar will launch its PV400 series on large commercial and utility-scale solar PV systems.  The course is open to anyone.

“We know we’re building a qualified workforce that the public can trust has the expertise to design and install safe, code-compliant solar electric systems,” said Kuhn.

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