September 15, 2008

Interview of the Week: Jane Weissman on Workforce Development: New Training Directory/Best Practices

Since 2001, IREC has been at the front of the pack with renewable energy training and workforce development. Approached by Mark Fitzgerald in 2000, IREC recognized the importance that this issue had in building the infrastructure for a strong, renewable energy workforce. Jane Weissman, IREC’s Executive Director, and tireless champion of quality renewable energy training…

Since 2001, IREC has been at the front of the pack with renewable energy training and workforce development. Approached by Mark Fitzgerald in 2000, IREC recognized the importance that this issue had in building the infrastructure for a strong, renewable energy workforce. Jane Weissman, IREC’s Executive Director, and tireless champion of quality renewable energy training and workforce development, was gracious enough to talk about this issue. Here’s our conversation:

IREC: Jane, you’ve been one of the leaders in moving this critical piece of infrastructure along. With renewable energy technologies gaining front and center stage, what kind of calls are you getting? What are people looking for?

JW: I don’t think a day goes by without calls and emails asking about the availability of training and educational opportunities in the renewable energy fields – solar, wind, geothermal. We get inquires all the time — Where can I get trained? How do I get into the business? Where do I get certified?

IREC: It feels like each day, there’s an article about the ‘green workforce’ in magazines, newspapers, online. Where do people who are interested in this start?

JW: One good starting point is for people to take a look at IREC’s Occupational Profiles for the Solar Industry Report. This publication looks at different solar job titles and also spends time discussing sub-classifications emerging in the installation part of the business.

Another useful tool is IREC’s on-line Training Catalog. This Catalog is a directory of providers offering renewable energy training. It’s sorted by state for easy use and provides a direct link to the training source. But, this is a brand new database that is just being populated with new information, so check back often for new listings.

IREC: I seem to recall that IREC had an on-line training database before, right? Is this one different from the earlier version?

JW: Yes and yes. In the first version, we tried to cover the entire nine yards by listing not only the providers but actual course descriptions. We learned that many of the entries weren’t kept up-to-date, so we went back to the drawing boards and designed a slimmed-down version. Now, all providers’ listings include a direct link to their web site which contains course and program information, and we also include contact name and email address so getting additional information should be relatively simple.

IREC: That sounds easier to use and to maintain. So will you walk us through how it works?

JW: Sure. It’s pretty simple. If you’re an educational provider of renewable energy training programs in the U.S. or Canada (sorry, no international listings), just click on the Renewable Energy Training Catalog, then look at the left hand navigation to find “Providers.” Once there, click on ‘submit provider information’ and add your information – name of provider, description and contact information.

IREC: Sounds easy enough, but how do you ensure the integrity of the information? Do you screen each entry?

JW: Yes we do, but just for completeness and to verify that the provider is legit. We do not review each curriculum or learning objectives. But, we do ask each provider to check off if they are ISPQ-accredited.

IREC: OK; a new term here. What’s ISPQ Accredited?

JW: Sorry. ISPQ Accredited is is the capstone credential for training programs and instructors. The Institute for Sustainable Power Quality (ISPQ) Assessment Framework is an international standard that specifies metrics for competency, quality systems, resources, and qualification of curricula for training programs and instructors in renewable energy technologies. ISPQ ensures the continuity, consistency, and quality of training programs and trainers through an application, audit and evaluation process. IREC is the North American Licensee for the ISPQ 01021 Standard for the Accreditation and Certification of Renewable Energy Training Programs.

Thanks to our dear friend, Mark Fitzgerald, we now have a standard to assess training programs. Although Mark died a few years ago after a long battle with cancer, his legacy lives on. He set a high bar and happily, we’re meeting it today.

IREC: Of course we are. So tell us who are ISPQ-accredited?

JW: So glad you asked. I’m always happy to tout these folks who’ve gone through the ISPQ process. The Florida Solar Energy Center, Solar Energy International, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, the State University of New York at Farmingdale, the State University of New York at Delhi, Lane Community College, and the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association have been award ISPQ’s Training Program Accreditation. The North Carolina Solar Center, Sun Pirate, Inc., and the Center for Sustainable Energy at Bronx Community College have been accredited as Continuing Education Providers. Others have been certified as Instructors and Master Trainers. And, to add to this August list, we’ve got eight applications currently under audit.

IREC: Wow. Sounds like organizations want this accreditation, and that IREC has made quality training a top priority.

JW: You bet! On a cool October night in 2000 in Baltimore, Maryland, Mark Fitzgerald took IREC out for dinner to talk about credentialing programs for training programs and for installers. It was the most expensive free dinner we ever had. (Just kidding.) Mark got us on the road to quality assessment, making sure there are high standards set for renewables. We all miss Mark a lot, but are very grateful that we have his vision and mission with us everyday.

IREC: So, what’s ahead?

JW: Maybe a 6-month vacation on the French Riviera.

IREC: Not that you don’t deserve it.

JW: Okay, seriously, we have just published the Best Practices & Recommended Guidelines for Renewable Energy Training. This document goes through the essential steps of designing a training course; includes checklists for assessing learning objectives; lists recommended equipment for training; includes a list of resources and text books; and covers other topics

IREC is also working with Jerry Ventre and Barbara Martin who are holding faculty development workshops. Last May, IREC and DOE hosted a meeting bringing together educators, industry, states, and experts to discuss solar energy training needs and how to meet them.

IREC: What did you learn from that meeting?

JW: One outcome of this meeting was the recommendation that ‘train-the-trainers’ programs should be held for instructors and faculty with the focus on curriculum resources and course delivery. Since that meeting, Jerry and Barbara have held two workshops, one in New York and the other in Northern California.

IREC: Bravo. So who are these workshops geared to?

JW: The purpose of these workshops is to provide interested faculty not only with a set of curriculum materials, but also with expert instruction on how best to use these materials to successfully develop high-quality courses that address current and projected workforce needs. We hope to hold more of these.

Brian Hurd from the East LA Skills Center and Hands On Solar has also been helping us out with setting up half-day workshops for schools in the Southern California area who are planning to develop renewable energy/solar training. Brian goes over the key parts of good course development and he talks about national certificate and certification programs.

IREC: I know you’re already planning on a third workforce development conference next year.

JW: Yes we are. Mark your calendars for the third national conference on New Ideas in Educating a Workforce in Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in the fall of 2009 in Albany, New York. The conference will offer the most current information on instructional strategies, curricula development, and best practices for training in the renewable energy and energy efficiency fields. Pre-conference, technical workshops will be held followed by 2 days of conference sessions. Our 2008 Workforce Education Conference drew 350 people. We expecting more in 2009 since “green” jobs and workforce development on front-burner issues. Keep an eye on the IREC website for dates and details.

Just one more plug: the IREC website has a lot of useful and relevant information about these issues, including Renewable Energy Training: Best Practices and Recommended Guidelines, Occupational Profiles, Jobs Trends, On-Line Training Directory.

IREC: Jane, I’m not surprised that IREC is one of the key players in moving this issue from concept to market. Keep up the innovative work, and thanks for all that you do.