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IREC: Energizing Training to Hit a Moving Target

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No industry captures the challenges – and opportunities – posed by the skills gap better than renewable energy.

One out of every 78 new jobs in the United States is being created by the solar industry alone, which is expected to swell to more than 200,000 total jobs in the coming year. [1] The emergence of new technologies—like software driven by big data—has led to even more demand for jobs in this sector.

Overall, the fields of renewable energy and resource efficiency comprise more than 830,000 jobs in the United States. and this number is growing by 3 percent each year [2]. The inevitable result? Not enough skilled workers to fill vacant positions.

“We’re a new industry relative to others in the United States, but we’re growing. We’re growing rapidly,” explains Laure-Jeanne Davignon, director of the credentialing program for the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), a National Network member. “And one of the issues we’ve been seeing is that folks are trying to educate and train based on a moving target.”

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The IREC Credentialing Program provides accreditation to those educating the clean energy workforce. Currently, IREC has 153 credential holders across the United States—including 46 certified instructors and master trainers and 107 organizations representing fields like renewable energy, energy efficiency, water conservation, biomass and energy storage.

“As trainers, we absolutely have to stay up to date with the most current issues, the latest technology and what the industry needs,” explains Sarah Raymer, director of training for SolPower People, an IREC-accredited clean energy training provider.

Working for a solar education and training firm, Raymer knows about the industry’s rapid growth, often supported by federal and state incentives to switch to solar power. As the industry changes, training needs to adapt with it, but IREC is ahead of the game.

In addition to accrediting clean energy programs and certifying clean energy instructors, IREC has developed its own standard for clean energy certificate programs. As an American National Standard, that set of requirements was developed with the input of industry groups, educators, employers, instructors, and even end users through a series of public comment periods.

IREC-credentialed programs must also align with a job task analysis to ensure that training prepares students for the work they will actually do—be it installing photovoltaic systems or performing energy audits at residential homes, for example. The curriculum also aims to prevent common missteps in the clean energy field.

“We believe that a truly good energy auditor works his/her way up from installer,” said Chris Baker, energy training and technical assistance coordinator for the FSL Southwest Building Science Training Center, in an interview with IREC. “With no background in doing the physical work this industry demands, they tend to make very poor decisions about what it takes to get the work done, and how to communicate that to homeowners.”

For Baker, training is key—both to set accurate expectations for prospective employees and to move existing installers forward to a career in auditing. That sort of awareness and flexibility is exactly what IREC aims to instill in the energy workforce via its credentialing and certification programs for training bodies.

To those seeking a career in clean energy, Davignon suggests looking for the IREC credential when selecting a training program, making sure the training program has a diverse array of formats and selecting a program with ties to industry for local job placement.

Her top tip: “Secure a valid, credible industry workforce credential in your toolkit to demonstrate to employers and potential employers that, first of all, you’re committed to lifelong learning, and that you have the skills to do the job they’re hiring for.”

IREC’s short cartoon traces why credible credentials count.