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By Richard Lawrence, program director, Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC)
Registered apprenticeship programs (RAPs) are a proven workforce development tool that is employer-driven and worker-centric. They provide a pathway for new employees to earn an entry-level salary while learning the trade through a combination of on-the-job training and related classroom instruction, with progressive wage increases as they learn and gain experience.
Apprenticeships can also help grow the solar workforce at a time when demand for workers is high and our industry will need to grow significantly to meet clean energy and climate targets. There are many additional benefits of registered apprenticeship programs, including access to tax credits, tuition and wage reimbursement, GI Bill housing allowances and other financial incentives.
Unfortunately, solar apprenticeship programs have historically been limited because key solar jobs are not yet recognized as “apprenticeable” by the U.S. Department of Labor. A recent milestone in Florida underscores the value of solar apprenticeships and complements an existing effort among industry stakeholders to develop standards that would enable this option across the country.
The Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) and Florida Solar Energy Industries Association (FlaSEIA) worked together on obtaining approval for a new registered apprenticeship program for solar installers. Through the hard work of FSEC and a dedicated group of solar contractors, solar companies across the Sunshine State can now take advantage of the registered apprenticeship system to grow their solar installation workforce.
While a few other apprenticeship programs to train solar installers have been registered with state apprenticeship agencies and/or the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the new Florida Solar Energy Apprenticeship Program is the first one recognized as preparing individuals in the federally defined occupations of “solar photovoltaic installer” and “solar thermal installers and technicians,” both of which are not yet recognized as “apprenticeable” by the DOL.
Florida is one of 29 U.S. states and territories that operate a state apprenticeship agency. Having a state apprenticeship agency allows Florida to approve its own occupations independent of the DOL. Florida also has a solar contractor license that allows a company to install both PV and solar thermal systems, and the new Florida Solar Energy Apprenticeship Program provides a pathway to that state-level certification.
All other programs to date have had to adapt occupations already approved as apprenticeable that share some related tasks with the job of a solar installer to get approval. These include the Oregon Limited Renewable Energy Technician program registered under the “wind turbine service technician” occupation; the Adaptive Construction Solutions Energy Utilities Installer program based on the “weatherization installer and technician” occupation; and the Power for America/Utility Workers Union of America’s Renewable Energy Specialist program that is based on the “energy auditor” occupation. Some solar companies, like ReVision Energy, have implemented electrician apprenticeship programs using the “residential wireman” and “inside wireman” occupations.
Read the full article, New Florida Milestone Highlights the Value of Apprenticeships for the Solar Industry, on Solar Power World Online.