SMC — Following the emergence of the “green jobs” sector over the past several years, a new program offering certification in the field of solar panel installation will launch this fall.
The 18-unit curriculum at Santa Monica College includes a three-course-series — PV1, PV2 and PV3 — that covers the essentials of photovoltaic panels and solar systems, getting more detailed as students progress to the next class in successive semesters. Included with each course is a lab component that involves physically installing panels on roofs.
Seeing a need for more training in the field of solar panel installation, SMC officials in May initiated the process to add a new program to its offerings, receiving approval from the college’s curriculum committee and later the Los Angeles/Orange County Workforce Development Leaders.
The program is now awaiting approval from the state but is expected to be ready for its first set of students this fall.
“SMC really wants to be a leader in not just being a green college, but offering a really green curriculum,” Genevieve Bertone, the sustainability coordination project manager, said.
Students must also complete several other electives to achieve certification, including Computer Assisted Design (CAD) and environmental studies courses, which provide a context for why solar and renewable energy is important, Bertone said.
The college will also offer an associate’s degree in photovoltaic studies for students who decide to pursue the full 60 units, making it one of the few schools in the area to offer such credentials.
The enrollment for PV1 has already reached its max for the fall semester. Bertone said the college is thinking of adding a few more sections for PV1 along with PV2 in the spring.
The courses were developed with the help of Brian Hurd and his company Hands on Solar, which provides consultation to schools interested in creating alternative energy programs. Hurd in 2006 developed the Solar Electric Installer Program for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Students are encouraged to have an understanding of at least trigonometry because the curriculum involves system design, understanding orientations and tilts and the sun’s relationship to the earth, Hurd said.
“We go through a lot of math and it starts at the basic level and ends up being more involved when you get into the system design,” he said.
The program doesn’t limit its students to working physically in solar construction, but rather gives them potential to explore areas such as sales and public relations, Hurd said.
“There’s a lot of different layers of employment,” he said.
While there are companies that don’t require their candidates for employment to have a background in solar installation, they do look favorably upon those who do have formal training.
“Because the solar industry is so nascent, any formal training makes a very positive case for a potential hire,” Daniel Dus, the chief financial officer for Santa Monica-based Martifer Solar, said. The company is one of the preferred providers for City Hall’s Solar Santa Monica program, which pairs residents with approved suppliers who offer competitive prices in an effort to make the city self-sustaining by 2020.
While Martifer has seen an increase in the percentage of credential applicants in the past 12 months, the vast majority still do not have formal training or certification, Dus said.
He estimates that the solar industry doubled in size from 2006 to 2008 in both revenue and job creation.
“Most companies active in the solar industry are acutely aware that the current job market is looking to green jobs to provide a reprieve from constantly increasing unemployment numbers, and are doing their best to maximize the value of the government subsidies made available to them in order to grow, and hire quickly,” he said.