A ‘Blue-Collar’ Solar Workforce


The North American Board of Energy Practitioners' (NABCEP) PV Installer (PVI) certification is becoming an unattainable goal, and therefore, the solar sector is suffering.

The wide scope of this test is unnecessary and lags behind current industry growth. Also, NABCEP will not make transparent testing data, such as number of applicants versus the failure rate per testing period, etc. It's less than accommodating – testing twice a year and using distant testing facilities with pencil and paper exam.

NABCEP Job Task Analysis' (JTA) [study guide] clearly states the guide is not an ‘all-inclusive study guide’ for the NABCEP exam and that exam questions will not necessarily be based on the contents of the study guide.’ Furthermore, there is no single training institution that offers all of the requirements of NABCEP PVI certification. The cost benefit of training/certification versus prevailing wages is yet to be decided.

‘NABCEP's mission is to develop and implement quality credentialing and certification programs for practitioners by supporting and working closely with professionals and stakeholders in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries,’ the organization says. What does this mean to the blue-collar workforce? One can interpret as only for the elitist.

The October 2012 edition of the Solar Foundation's Solar Jobs Census reports that more than 120,000 people are employed in the solar market. NABCEP has, in both PVI and solar heating, a total of 2,470 certifications, or a mere 2%.

The installation of solar panels [requires] a combination of the knowledge and craftsmanship of a roofer and an electrician. We don't have a shortage of qualified personnel, but we do have a certification body that is out of touch with industry needs. Despite NABCEP [certification requirements], the industry grew by 13% last year and continues to do so.

The natural progression of the blue-collar worker who becomes a solar installer [includes] trade school, certification and on-the-job training. Certification through a single entity is a bottleneck with no other alternatives.

Certification through job functions and grid types makes sense and will immediately impact industry growth. Testing by job function by no means diminishes the value, but rather, empowers the job function and strengthens the industry. The following job functions are being done in the everyday workplace:

-Sales (NABCEP has in place)
-Site survey
-Site roof planning, single-line drawing and wire sizing calculations
-Permitting package (for AHJ approval)
-Solar parts – balance-of-system components
-PV installation (technician)
-Commissioning and warranty/repair work
-Photovoltaic installer foreman

Job function certification is common practice in all trades and produces a more competent technician. Technicians can graduate to multiple testing areas and progressively increase their certifications.

In summary, it is exhausting to communicate with NABCEP, which has a parallax view of the changes occurring in today's workplace. Certification is the largest roadblock for the blue-collar workforce. Businessses' hunger for certified technicians is in high demand, and for a technician, wanting to be certified produces nothing but frustration.

Should there be more certification entities? Maybe – perhaps through the Building Performance Institute, manufacturers or training institutions. Certification by job function gives the blue-collar worker ‘skin in the game’.

We are all links in the solar chain and must strive to see the industry flourish. Certification seems to be the weakest link and must be remedied in order for us to move forward.

Thank you for listening. Any response is welcome.

Trini Shrinarine
PV Installer Volunteer

Editor's note: To submit your own contribution to Viewpoints, email Jessica Lillian at jlillian@solarindustrymag.com.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments