PV Technical Sales: IREC sees increase in course offerings, but there’s room for more
By Jane Pulaski
August 13, 2012
“While reviewing annual reports from credential holders, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of courses being taught for PV sales,” said Pat Fox, IREC’s Director of Operations and program lead for IREC’s Credentialing Program.
Why the uptick in course offerings in this area? What skills are necessary to be in PV technical sales? What kind of training is out there?
In the credentialing world, the Job Task Analysis (JTA) is the heartbeat of workplace performance. It’s a detailed, thorough roadmap that determines what people do, under what working conditions, and with what knowledge and skills.
“JTAs are important because they provide a link between training and the jobs you want your graduates to successfully and safely perform,” said Laure-Jeanne Davignon, Program Manager for IREC’s Credentialing Program. “They are created by subject matter experts in an industry, so they give you a road map to follow when designing, developing, implementing and evaluating your training program.”
For programs considering offering PV sales, NABCEP’s PV Technical Sales JTA is accepted by IREC’s Credentialing Program to be used as a foundation for developing curriculum. Candidates for IREC’s ISPQ Credential can get their courses accredited based on this JTA.
What is a PV Technical Salesperson? What do they do?
According to the NABCEP JTA, a PV Tech Salesperson is a solar electric professional with demonstrated expertise in the siting, design, analysis and performance of PV systems who gathers site specific information, analyzes customer needs and energy usage for the purpose of advising and providing customers with the most appropriate solution for their situation. Though not qualified to install PV systems, the PV Tech Salesperson needs to know as much as an installer, according to Leigh Hamilton, Solarigen. Solairgen in Dahlonega, Georgia, is currently the only training program in the U.S. accredited using the PV Technical Sales JTA. Its PV 203 class, PV Systems Design and Implementation, accredited in December 2009, incorporates PV Technical Sales into the PV Installer training.
“At the PV 203 stage of training, which covers introductory topics and moves into intermediate and advanced PV and Tech Sales concepts, the information people need to know and incorporate into their knowledge really does overlap,” said Hamilton. “At the next level of training, the subject matter ‘branches off’ and becomes more specialized, but to start, what a Tech Sales professional needs to know is pretty much what the PV Installer needs to know as they both move into the industry.”
Janet Hughes, IREC ISPQ Affiliated Master Trainer and lead solar consultant with ONTILITY Solar Training, concurs.
“They all need to learn the basics, the types of systems, how to talk ‘solar speak,’ know about incentive programs and financing options, and opportunities for their customers,” she said. “People that are more sales or business development oriented are learning that they can get extra recognition and qualifications by going for the PV Technical Sales certification.”
Hughes, also a Master Electrician, admits that electrical contractors and solar installers take quickly and easily to technical information. “But they need skills in how to sell solar.” Hughes is seeing more electrical supply distributors sell solar.
For people in the workplace looking to develop a business in solar, as in any industry, they need to have the knowledge and skills to make the sale. In PV this requires a strong technical understanding of site analysis, system design and performance, and an understanding of financial incentives. The successful sales person needs to be able to communicate effectively with potential customers to understand their needs, explain the benefits of PV, and to develop and present an effective proposal. According to Fox, taking a training program that has been designed to cover all of these tasks is an efficient way to learn what it takes to do the sales process successfully.
Ezra Auerbach, Executive Director of NABCEP, says that sales and finance are bright spots in the PV job market these days. “The interest in offering courses in PV technical sales makes sense. We’re certainly seeing the NABCEP PV Technical Sales Certification gaining traction.” NABCEP just recently offered its exam cycle for this certification for about 100 candidates.
According to Hamilton, new entries into the solar industry are still looking for careers in the installation field, but when they learn of the PV technical sales, there’s an enthusiastic interest.
With only one IREC ISPQ accredited PV technical sales program in the U.S., there’s room for more. Training programs and instructors can add an IREC ISPQ accreditation or certification PV Technical Sales credential to distinguish their inventory of offerings. Applications for these credentials can be found on the Key Docs page of the IREC ISPQ website. Once accredited or certified, programs and instructors can promote their courses with the IREC ISPQ mark.
“The increased demand for courses in PV technical sales indicates that people in or entering the workforce in this industry are recognizing the need for this knowledge,” said Fox. “IREC ISPQ Training Program Accreditation gives programs a mark to indicate to potential students the value they will receive from a course.”