Jack Bishop of Portland, Oregon recently graduated from Tulane University with hopes of entering the renewable energy industry and doing his part to address environmental challenges.
While he had taken numerous courses related to the industry, he didn’t know where to start looking for a job.
Bishop is not alone in his wish to enter a field that will have a positive impact on the environment, says Chris Lord, co-instructor of HeatSpring’s Solar Executive MBA Training course.
What Skills Do You Offer the Industry?
Lord suggests that job seekers, whether they’re recent college graduates or experts in other fields, begin by identifying and honing the skills they offer the industry.
“If you are an engineer, bring yourself up to speed technically. If you’re a liberal arts major, find out what strength you can bring. Are you a sales, finance, analytics person?”
After identifying your strengths, start connecting with people on LinkedIn. Look locally to see who is in the business and try to schedule an informational interview. You should ask these contacts what you can do to become more appealing to renewable energy businesses, says Lord. Connecting with friends and family members who are in the industry is also a good start.
Internships Can Provide Important Experience
Another option, especially for recent college graduates, is to seek internships in the industry. “The smaller shops want experienced people,” says Lord.
Engineers have a good shot at transitioning to the renewables business. “There’s always a huge need for engineers, good engineers; they have a natural advantage,” he says.
Consider Getting NABCEP Credentials
Sean White, instructor for numerous HeatSpring courses, including Solar PV Boot Camp Plus NABCEP PV Associate Exam Prep, says that those seeking jobs in renewable energy should consider taking the NABCEP associate exam, which covers the basics of solar design, installation and operation for both grid-connected and off-grid solar PV systems.
If you pass a NABCEP associate exam, you’re qualified to design, sell, install or maintain systems while supervised, according to NABCEP. The organization provides an online associate directory, which industry members can use to verify your type of credential, credential number and expiration date.
White promises studying for and taking the exam doesn’t require a lot of time.
“The credential is well recognized throughout the industry. Someone who knows how to study could have that credential in a week and will learn a lot of good information,” says White, whose PV boot camp course prepares students for the exam.
Gain Experience by Installing Solar
Other NABCEP certifications require some experience. For example, the most popular, the PV Installation Professional, requires those taking the exam to work on three different solar installations sized between 1 kW and 1 MW or two projects over 1 MW. 1 kW is 3 or 4 solar modules.
“That could be on your mom or grandpa’s house,” says White.
To gain additional experience, you could look for a job installing solar on a rooftop and work your way into an office job. Another option is to do busy work for a PV system designer and work your way into another position.
“These companies are growing fast. The owners are often doing too much and need someone who is reliable and gets things done,” says White.
The Need for System Designers
System designers are indeed busy, says HeatSpring instructor Justine Sanchez, the solar plus storage program director for Mayfield Renewables. Electrical engineers for system design are in high demand right now.
“We have a serious lack of designers. My advice is to get your electrical engineering degree immediately; there’s a huge shortage of electrical engineers in the solar design space,” she says.
But if you’d rather get your feet wet in the industry without an engineering degree, it’s possible to do some system design if you have expertise in Computer Aided Design (CAD) and have taken some solar courses, she adds.
Be Patient and Persistent
While you’re applying for jobs, it’s important to be patient, especially in light of the job cuts related to the COVID-18 crisis, says Lord.
“A graduate of my alma mater found a job at a great firm, but it took him nine months,” says Lord. “He had to be persistent and patient.”
Photo Credit: International Renewable Energy Agency