From Startup to Success: The Solar Instructor Training Network Five Years On  

Building a national, highly-qualified, well-trained clean energy workforce takes time. And work. And vision.

We knew in 2010 when we started this project to build a national network of solar training institutions that we were in startup mode. Since 2010, some 30,000 students have received some form of solar training from SITN instructors from more than 420 institutions in 49 states and two U.S. territories.

Now, after five years, we’re seeing stunning results from the confluence of the work of innovative instructors, supportive administrators at educational institutions, and long-term vision from DOE’s SunShot Initiative.

stacked hands success

Together, we’ve been working from the same premise and toward the same end: building a highly qualified, well-trained, local solar workforce of PV installers and related occupations, ready to support the booming solar industry with safe, durable and trusted residential and commercial PV installations.

What makes the Solar Instructor Training Network work?

For starters, it’s the deep bench of talent in nationwide regional training providers with engaged instructors and supportive administrators. Today, SITN represents 88 percent of the U.S. PV training market.

Collectively, we developed unique resources, like the interactive solar career map that explores the many and varied job opportunities available in the solar industry. A new, improved solar career map 2.0 is in the works. Look for a roll out in Fall 2015.

We listened to those in the field, and created an online curriculum for reliable field inspection practices and efficient permit processes for residential PV installations for thousands of code officials and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) across the U.S.

And we collaborated with innovative solar instructors to produce a seven-part national best practices series for training, education and workforce development, ensuring that educators have the right tools to prepare students with indispensable skills for the solar workforce.

All along, we remained nimble so we could respond to and accommodate for a quickly evolving solar industry, while maintaining an unwavering commitment to quality. Make no mistake: quality matters.

And now?

We’re hearing from industry and companies who are looking for those quality-trained workers. “Where are the SITN institutions, and how can we get access to those students,” they ask.

Last week, we held the first solar PV instructor training summit at Long Beach City College where a group of 40 solar educators and the industry gathered for the day to learn from each other what the workforce needs are from those hiring solar professionals, the types of skills in demand by PV installation companies, and approaches to keeping community college PV training relevant.

Late last year, President Obama applauded the work of the SITN and the 30,000+ individuals who’ve received solar training. Now he wants SITN to bring that level of quality solar training to 50,000 by 2020.

Apparently, we’re not done.

Last month, the first group of veterans in the U.S. Department of Energy’s ‘Reach for the Sun’ solar PV veteran training program graduated at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Through the SITN, and with IREC’s expert guidance, the program provides four weeks of intensive classroom and hands-on solar training for military personnel who are transitioning from active duty to civilian life. Solar Energy International led the training.

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Veteran students at Ft. Carson, CO. Image: Solar Energy International

The immediate result? Job offers were extended to all 20 veteran graduates. The second round of training for transitioning veterans is now underway at Ft. Carson, Colorado. Once again, the Rocky Mountain Regional Training Provider, Solar Energy International, is leading the six-week training. A third training at the Naval Station Norfolk is in the queue, likely early summer. Details in the works; stay tuned!

We’ve heard from industry, like SolarCity, who on April 9th, will share their expertise and promote employment opportunities for SITN trained workers in a webinar. And on April 14, we’ll learn about the VA approval process for veterans so they can use their GI bill benefits for this training.

The result of all of this collaboration? Strong, lasting solutions. The runaway winner? All of us.

I invite you to stay with us as SITN 2.0 continues to unfold. Subscribe to the SITN Quarterly. Sign up for an upcoming webinar. We’re just getting started.

Image: Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo

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