NABCEP was founded almost 20 years ago with a vision for creating a path for workers in the renewable energy industry to distinguish themselves from their competition, particularly in the field of solar PV. Since then, numerous customers, utility companies and jurisdictions have recognized the quality and professionalism they experience when working with NABCEP board-certified professionals. NABCEP Board Certifications and Associate credentials are developed by solar professionals for solar professionals, and they are available to anyone around the globe looking to excel in the rapidly expanding solar industry.
Although our goal is to create Board Certifications available to anyone, the ugly truth is that not everyone truly has access to them. In a perfect world, people of all ages, races, genders and backgrounds would be able to receive solar training and join the industry in helping transition the world to a future run on renewable energy. However, that is not what we have seen from our perspective in the certification world, nor is it reflected in the overall solar workforce.
The solar industry needs more diversity, and it needs it now. Within the United States, the current solar workforce is disproportionately white and male. Although women constitute approximately 49% of the population, they account for less than 27% of the solar workforce nationally. Latinos, Asians and African Americans all have disproportionately low workforce ratios, too. In NABCEP’s home state of New York, African Americans constitute almost 18% of the total population but account for less than 7% of solar jobs. Since African Americans make up 12.1% of the national workforce, not only is the solar industry not recruiting a representative number of African Americans, it appears to be doing worse than other sectors.
As the sole personnel certification body in the renewable energy industry, NABCEP recognizes that in the solar industry, there can be no sustainability without diversity. For solar to thrive and impact members of all communities equally, we need people of all different ages, genders, races and backgrounds to get involved and lend their talents. In NABCEP’s view, underrepresented populations include veterans, low-income individuals, individuals with apparent and non-apparent disabilities, Native Americans, unemployed powerplant workers, single mothers, members of geographically isolated communities and members of the LGBTQIA community. It is for that reason NABCEP is advocating for a fair and equitable energy transition that focuses on social justice and encourages underrepresented communities to become involved in the solar revolution.
Linking social justice with the solar industry is vital for the survival of the industry and the energy transition, and it will take a lot of effort from numerous people for it to become reality. Here are some things that need to take place for members of underrepresented populations to get involved and prosper in the solar industry:
- Lawmakers must write and enact legislation that funds workforce development programs that recruit, train and provide job assistance to individuals from underrepresented populations;
- Industry associations must develop apprenticeship programs with industry partners that allow underrepresented populations to develop skills while they earn and learn;
- Employers must invest in recruiting, hiring and providing on-the-job training for candidates from underrepresented populations;
- Training organizations must identify, recruit and deliver low-cost training to prepare individuals from underrepresented populations for jobs in the solar industry;
- Certification bodies such as NABCEP must provide clear, low-cost (or free, if funding is available) methods for underrepresented populations to earn credentials;
- Charities must develop scholarship programs for underrepresented populations to receive free training and workforce development in the solar industry.
There is a lot to be done to make the solar industry more diverse. You may have noticed we included ourselves on the list above. In fact, NABCEP launched numerous initiatives to increase access to and decrease the costs of training individuals from underrepresented communities to encourage a fair and just energy transition. For instance, NABCEP transitioned its exams from a biannual paper-and-pencil format to computer-based exams available year-round and offered at hundreds of testing sites in the United States and around the world. The purpose was to reduce the geographic and economic barriers that historically prevented some qualified individuals from applying for and taking one of NABCEP’s exams.
NABCEP also worked with its registered training-providers to develop a free training page on its website. Free webinars created by training-providers that count toward continuing education or certification requirements are now posted on nabcep.org. This new resource decreases the cost of earning and maintaining NABCEP’s Board Certifications and Associate credentials.
To increase the number of minorities working in the solar industry, NABCEP partnered with the WISE Foundation, Solar Energy International (SEI) and leading private industry stakeholders such as Folsom Labs to launch The Jane Weissman Daybreak Scholarship Fund to support the empowerment of underserved populations including women, veterans and minorities working toward degrees or certifications in the solar energy industry. At launch, The Jane Weissman Daybreak Scholarship Fund imbues WISE with the ability to offer up to $4,000 scholarships to as many as 15 individuals over the next three years (2019-2021). Scholarship recipients will receive direct funding for training, certification and participation in the NABCEP Continuing Education Conference, the industry’s premier technical solar event. If you would like to apply for this scholarship or donate to the cause, please visit solwomen.org/daybreakscholarship.
If you have any ideas or interest in working with NABCEP to encourage more diversity in the industry, please email NABCEP’s Director of Certification, Dan Pickel, at firstname.lastname@example.org.