August 6, 2008

Brian Hurd: Hands-On Solar Activites Workshop Recap

Brian Hurd is a vocational instructor at the East Los Angeles Skills Center (ELASC), an employment preparation and training center serving a diverse community. Recognizing that the demand for photovoltaic installers was poised to explode, Hurd developed a course of study to prepare ELSAC students to enter the growing field. “The main reason we started…

Brian Hurd is a vocational instructor at the East Los Angeles Skills Center (ELASC), an employment preparation and training center serving a diverse community. Recognizing that the demand for photovoltaic installers was poised to explode, Hurd developed a course of study to prepare ELSAC students to enter the growing field. “The main reason we started our photovoltaic installer program,” said Hurd, “was to partner with solar contractors to provide a well-trained entry-level work- force to help meet this growing demand.”

ELSAC became a NABCEP Entry Level Certificate Program provider in March 2007, and since that time, ELSAC continues to see a growing demand for its ‘green’ energy classes.

Last month, Hurd’s “Hands On Solar, Inc.,” in collaboration with IREC, just offered a half day workshop on July 24, 2008 for schools in the Southern California area interested in starting programs in solar electricity. “This workshop included information on NABCEP’s PV Entry Level Certificate of Knowledge, and how schools can become provider institutions,” said Hurd.

With the workshop just over, I caught up with Brian just after this workshop to find out how it went. Here’s our conversation.

IREC: Hi Brian. How did the July 24 workshop go? Are you taking a breather?

BH: By all accounts, this workshop went very well and has us all excited about the potential to have quality instructional programs in PV starting throughout the state of California.

IREC: Who was the target audience for this workshop, and what was the training? What did the students learn?

BH: Our training target includes community colleges, vocational & trade schools, and school districts interested in starting programs in photovoltaics. The training, a five-hour workshop on how to start effective PV programs using NABCEP’s Entry Level Certificate Program as the model.

Workshop attendees got a comprehensive lesson in how to offer quality instruction in PV including curriculum development, finding qualified instructors and committed local support, setting up appropriate learning environments and instructional resources, and, of course, establishing a job placement network

IREC: Is this the first of a series of this kind of workshop?

BH: Yes, this was the first. It was held at the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley. And yes, the next one is set for August 14th at East Los Angeles College. The third one, planned for early fall in San Diego, will be held at Miramar College. We’re working hard to make this coincide with Solar Power International 2008. We’ve had requests to hold events at Long Beach City College, Chaffey College, Santa Monica Community College, El Camino College and West Hills College in Fresno. We hope to have a workshop in the Sacramento area sometime this school year where several schools have shown interest.

IREC: Of course it was a huge success.

BH: We think so. We had representatives from 14 different schools in attendance, one university: Cal Tech, 10 different community colleges and three from career/ technical schools. Some attendees brought guests. In all, 26 people attended including deans, department heads, program coordinators, administrators, and teachers. One brought his dean with him. Two of the instructors had attended the NABCEP “Train the Trainer” workshop at Diablo Community and now want to start programs at their schools.

The “Train the Trainer” program, conducted by Tom Chatagnier at Diablo Valley CC, is an important piece, but in reality we need school administrations buying in and making a commitment if we are to add provider institutions.

IREC: Did you install a permanent system at this workshop?

BH: The work shop was not intended to be “hands-on”. It was information only and directed toward administrators and schools. I brought some gizmos and gadgets of the trade as a show and tell portion of my presentation. At break we went outside to play with the irradiance meter. I also had two modules to dramatize my presentation. Just enough to get everyone into it.

Now that we have had one successful event and are ready for the second on August 14th, we have established a system that seems very effective. We are also compiling a database for future events of all participants and schools. These workshops are considered introductory events with follow-up workshops with more In-depth information to be held later. The contact information we are compiling will be valuable for future training.

IREC: So what do you do, Brian?

BH: I wear many hats. I’m the administrator, organizer and instructor. My PV educational services company, “Hands On Solar, Inc.” entered into a contract with IREC to hold three workshops with the potential to have others. I serve as the President of “Hands On Solar” and am administrating the events.

IREC: How do you find time to do all of those things? Do you still teach at ELSAC?

BH: Putting all the pieces together has been daunting. Together with my wonderful wife, Catherine, we gather names of potential provider institutions, administrators, we network with schools, and help compile lists of potential workshop participants. We handle all of the workshop details, from preparing folders, copying, collating, and we organize each event, from finding locations and services to coordinating parking and logistics. In short, we do everything.

IREC: How did this evolve? Who or what were the drivers here?

BH: During the second Workforce Education Conference at Hudson Valley Community College in March, IREC”s Jane Weissman and I had several productive conversations about how to mainstream renewable energy workforce education in California. You know that saying, ““as goes California, so goes the nation?” Well, my feeling was (and still is) that if the community colleges and vocational schools had the right information that they would want to take advantage of the incredible training opportunities that are looming. To have PV training become mainstream, we must have a well-trained workforce. We cannot achieve this without a network of provider institutions adhering to a consistent and effective curriculum.

IREC: What would you say has been the biggest challenge to promote and offer this kind of training?

BH: I’d haveto say it was a challenge to pull the event together so quickly. From signed contract to workshop was about a month. I couldn’t have done it without

Catherine (Hands On Solar Secretary, partner and wife)

IREC: So now you can do it again, right? What’s been the biggest surprise of this work?

BH: Well, the second time will be easier. The biggest surprise? It has to be how excited the participants are, and how well received our message was. The workshop evaluation forms were overwhelmingly positive. Everyone wants more. Email traffic to “Hands On Solar” has quadrupled. Our attendees have been spreading the word. Many wanted to come to the second event, but it is already full.

IREC: Sounds like you’ve got a real winner on your hands, Brian. Keep up the great work, and keep us posted about your work, OK?