June 30, 2009

IREC / ATT&E and Hands On Solar, setting the curve In PV teacher training

Green jobs, green workforce, green economy, green energy, green collar workforce, 21st century workforce, renewable energy workforce. Did I miss any? The fervor for a green economy is creating the demand for a green workforce. But how does it materialize? Where does it start? What does it look like? For Brian Hurd, it started in…

Green jobs, green workforce, green economy, green energy, green collar workforce, 21st century workforce, renewable energy workforce.

Did I miss any?

The fervor for a green economy is creating the demand for a green workforce. But how does it materialize? Where does it start? What does it look like?

For Brian Hurd, it started in 2006 when, as a vocational instructor at the East Los Angeles Skills Center (ELSAC), he saw solar energy training was ready for prime time. So, he established a solar 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 workforce to help meet this growing demand.”

In March 2007, ELSAC became a NABCEP Entry Level Certificate of Knowledge (COK) Program provider and not surprisingly, ELSAC continued to see a growing demand for its ‘green’ energy classes.

In March of 2008, Hurd and his new venture, Hands on Solar, Inc., and IREC’s Jane Weissman brainstormed on an initiative that would change the renewable energy educational landscape in California.

Even though California had historically been a leader in solar energy, Weissman was concerned about the lack of solid training opportunities for those wishing to enter the field in the #3 market in the world. During a series of discussions at Hudson Valley, San Diego, and via email, Hurd and Weissman hatched a plan to offer a series of workshops to encourage educational providers to get into the game.

“Our goal was to help schools start effective programs in PV and alternative energy based on industry set standards”, explained Hurd. “We felt certain that if schools saw the huge potential for this training, they would want to participate.”

Hurd said their educational focus had three prongs:

  1. To stimulate the interest necessary for schools and administrators to actively start instructional programs in PV;
  2. To follow up with training to help individual schools develop a funding stream, organize an effective advisory committee, develop appropriate curriculum, identify potential teachers, prepare budgets, order equipment, and design work stations and lab areas; and
  3. To train teachers with a passion for PV to teach this very involved and complicated technology.

Using those criteria, IREC sponsored four initial events held at schools around California during the fall of 2008. Also during this period, a collaboration was forged between IREC, Hands On Solar, and Advanced Transportation Technology and Energy (ATT&E), administered by Greg Newhouse of Miramar College in San Diego and Peter Davis at the state level. As a result, ATT&E supported four additional events that were held in the fall at schools from LA and Orange counties to Fresno.

“By this time,” said Hurd, “we were on a roll and schools around the state were asking to host workshops. I also was conducting personal follow ups to individual campuses, helping them with program start up, curriculum, equipment orders, etc. It seemed that everyone that had the correct information wanted to do it the right way, just as we had envisioned. We were also developing quite a long list of alumni.”

In January 2009, Hands On Solar, IREC/DOE, and ATT&E held back-to-back teacher training workshops in San Diego and Santa Monica. Both workshops were well attended and were intended specifically for teachers to help them get up-to-speed on teaching PV. Dr’s Jerry Ventre and Barbara Martin were the key presenters at these two successful events, which featured technical information and instructional design.

Ventre, an engineering consultant for the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc., is one of the best technical experts around, with more thirty-five years of experience in various aspects of engineering, including research, development, design and systems analysis. Barbara Martin has taught courses in instructional design, instructional theory, research in educational technology, and change strategies. As education and training in the renewable energy industries has evolved, Barbara has been an essential player and knowledgeable voice in the process.

“As a result of the January workshops,” said Hurd, “we realized that the teachers, most of them from technical education but new to PV, needed more information.” According to Hurd, he received lots of emails with the same questions: ‘there’s so much information out there, what do we actually teach,’ and ‘how do we teach it.’

Hurd and Weissman went back to the drawing board and came up with the next training curriculum that would use the best textbook on the market, Jim Dunlop’s Photovoltaic Systems, coupled with NABCEP’s Entry Level Certificate of Knowledge (COK) course outline and learning objectives.

Taking cues from the January workshops, in June, Hurd and his team offered the first of its kind two-day workshop intended only for instructors versed in PV at Sierra College, Roseville Gateway campus just northeast of Sacramento June 4-5, 2009. Because Sierra College is in the process of establishing three new PV courses, Dean Stephanie Ortiz and her instructional team were eager to host the workshop.

“What differentiated this training from the one we offered in January,” said Hurd, “is this time, we targeted current instructors already teaching PV or getting ready to teach it in the fall. This was not a beginner’s workshop.”

The 27 attendees for the June workshop were either teaching PV or were in the process of starting PV classes, and most had already attended a previous IREC training workshop, like the ones in January, with Hurd, Drs. Ventre, and Martin. According to Ventre, a number of attendees from the earlier workshops had asked for a more technical program.

“We asked participants to prepare for this workshop,” said Hurd, “because of the amount of material to be covered in the two days, and because it was quite technical. We asked them to get familiar with Jim Dunlop’s textbook, Solar Photovoltaic Systems, which has quickly become the industry standard for training, education and workforce development. We coupled Jim’s book with NABCEP’s Entry Level COK learning objectives for a solid, comprehensive technical foundation for instructors. The instruction by Jim and Jerry (Ventre) was a powerful one-two punch.”

Neither the course description nor the homework assignment discouraged attendees; in fact, the workshop booked in a matter of days. “I guess the word’s out, because there’s already a waiting list for the next training workshop tentatively planned for September in Southern California,” Hurd said.

The audience for this workshop consisted primarily of community college instructors, but also included some high school and training organization instructors. For this workshop, Ventre and Dunlop focused on the critical tasks that had to be mastered by the learners, and suggested approaches on how to teach the most critical tasks.

“All of them were familiar with PV and some were extremely knowledgeable, said Ventre, “but many appeared to be relatively inexperienced in PV (i.e., less than five years experience). A fair number, maybe half, had some experience teaching PV, and the rest were just getting into it. Even those who had taught PV wanted to learn more.”

Dunlop agrees.

“Most were very familiar w/ PV, although a few of the teachers who attended were not. However, that really didn’t seem to distract from the course objectives, which were to present curriculum resources, learning objectives, teaching methods, etc, as opposed to presenting the subject matter in detail as it would be presented to learners.”

“Because they were all familiar with PV fundamentals,” said Ventre, “we could focus on those items that we thought were most important for their students to learn well. Much of the workshop involved going through each chapter of Jim’s (Dunlop) Photovoltaic Systems text. For each chapter, we would focus on the most important concepts to be mastered and procedures to be used for hands-on activities.”

The workshop also provided a chance for the California solar industry (CalSEIA) to get involved.

“I see a real need for qualified trainers,” said Sue Kately, Executive Director of CalSEIA. “Currently, there is no standard for training, so I’m sensing that many of the training courses are taught by people who have never installed a single PV or SWH project. For those who may have taken a short course, their confidence is high though their experience is inadequate. They may know the parts, but not have enough knowledge about the real job of proper installation and safety techniques.”

“It was so good having Sue there,” said Hurd. “She kicked off the event and got everyone into the spirit.”

Suzette Del Bono, Education Specialist with Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s Energy and Technology Center, found the workshop offered a very good overview of the textbook.

“I had already attended a PV trainer workshop for NABCEP certification,” said Del Bono, “so I was quite comfortable with the pace. It was interesting getting different perspectives from the author and industry experts.”

Anna Bautista, installation supervisor for GRID Alternatives also felt that Dunlop’s textbook and the instructor development binder will be valuable for trainings and semesters to come. GRID Alternatives is a non-profit solar contractor, and Anna leads job trainees and volunteers in hands-on, real-world PV installations.

“The instructors prioritized the theory concepts in the PV Entry Level Practitioner Recommendations which will be helpful in linking to the practical, real world applications of solar installation and ensuring a comprehensive and relevant curriculum, she said.

Hurd added classroom-specific ideas for the workshop. “I also threw in some home-spun slides from ELSAC with students installing PV in our lab, and tips on setting up a PV program on a budget.”

Ventre, Dunlop, and Hurd were impressed with the level of attention and enthusiasm of the 25+ instructors who were in attendance.

Like Suzette Del Bono, who designs and operates professional development workshops for local educators. “I handle any education related matter from K-12 and community colleges,” she said. “For me, the best part of the workshop was networking and helping people make connections with others, and providing an opportunity to publicize SMUD’s support of education in the community.”

Hurd feels that schools are starting effective programs, and many are aligning with NABCEP by becoming Entry Level COK providers.

Like Mark Hedges, former Navy Seabee Chief Construction Mechanic, and school director for a joint Navy/Air Force Mechanic Training Center who’s putting together a course based on NABCEP’s Entry Level COK program for Riverside County Community College.

“Brian encouraged me that whatever I did, I needed to make sure that the training I offered was correct,” said Hedges.

Glancing at the workshop surveys, it’s easy to understand how well the workshop went with comments like, ‘more time…I didn’t want to stop,’ and ‘being from an electrical background and thinking I knew a lot, I now realize how much there is to know.’

“To give you an idea of how well it was received,” said Hurd, “we had a room full of teachers still in their seats at 5:05 on a Friday afternoon soaking up all the information they could. And as Jim pointed out, ‘for a free workshop, too’. It really says something.”

Bautista was more sanguine.

“It was an honor to learn under the instruction of several industry and PV education leaders like Jim Dunlop, Jerry Ventre, Sue Kateley, and Brian Hurd.”

“Looking back from almost a year ago, with more than 400 workshop participants from more than 60 schools, it’s obvious that the objectives of the original vision are dead on,” said Hurd. “California is in position to hit the ground running into the new ‘green’ economy, and IREC, Hands On Solar, and ATT&E are planning continued training for teachers, schools, and programs. It’s very heartening to be part of this.”