Solar training and certification is a journey, not a destination

“How long will it take me to get NABCEP-certified?”

If we had a dollar for every time we heard that question from potential students here at Solar Energy International (SEI), we would never have to have another giving-campaign for our non-profit school’s operations.

As solar educators, we love talking with training program candidates about their career goals and helping them choose a program track that fits their expectations. However, we often first have to address the common misconceptions for what it takes to get into the solar industry and be successful in a rewarding career.

Being a successful solar professional isn’t a sprint to the NABCEP-certification finish line. Getting ahead in this industry is more like a marathon, and one should be ready to dedicate time to long-term professional development.

Years of continuous training might seem daunting, but the solar industry doesn’t make it a chore. This tight-knit community of solar professionals loves to share knowledge, and certification classes are much more about real-world applications of technologies than long, theoretical talks like at college.

There are always opportunities to learn, whether it’s through on-the-job training, vendor product webinars or formal classes through schools like SEI. In many of these situations, you can get hands-on experience using solar products and tools before setting foot on a real solar jobsite. Lab-based training opportunities allow you to learn from experienced solar instructors, and many people in the classes will have the same questions as you so you won’t feel discouraged.

Just how do you select a reputable school? If already in the solar industry, ask your employer and other solar industry veterans where they received their training and if there are schools they’d recommend. Make sure to visit the Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s (IREC) list of accredited training programs and schools. IREC is the premier entity for ensuring schools and training providers are preparing solar professionals with industry-aligned curriculum and expert instructors. The group also ensures ethical business practices are in place to protect consumers. We suggest steering clear of training programs that focus mostly on NABCEP test prep. Do you want to just be prepared for a test or be fully prepared for a career?

More on NABCEP: The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners is the most respected entity in the solar industry for various individual professional certifications. NABCEP has many avenues of approach based on educational background, employment experience and other skill levels that will determine what is required for you to qualify for exams and certification.

When you’re ready, contact a school that is recognized by IREC or NABCEP and talk with a student advisor. They can guide you through NABCEP requirements and explore your bigger-picture solar career goals. Once NABCEP-certified, you will have to maintain your certification through continuing education requirements. Again, this is part of the journey and not a race to get a piece of paper to hang on your wall. Continuing education courses ensure you’re up-to-date on the latest solar technology and installation techniques.

The solar industry is a great place to work and is constantly evolving. Prepare for these changes and embrace new ideas by committing to continuing solar training and education.

Solar Energy International will be contributing training columns to Solar Power World throughout the next year.

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