Landing a Job in Renewable Energy I: Training Options
copyright 2009 by Dan Chiras
I teach classes on renewable energy and green building at The Evergreen Institute, my educational center in east-central Missouri (www.evergreeninstitute.org). I also teach through other organizations and institutions such as the University of Colorado’s continuing education program (http://conted.colorado.edu/programs/sustainable-practices/).
One trend I’ve noticed in recent years is a dramatic increase in the number of students interested in pursuing a career in renewable energy or home energy efficiency. A few years ago, only one or two students would raise their hands indicating they wanted to pursue a career in renewable energy. Now, it’s half my class – sometimes more!
One of the questions students invariably ask me is “How do I get a job in the industry?” I’ll discuss this topic in this blog and a few follow ups.
My immediate answer to this question is “Get as much education as possible – with as much hands on experience as possible, too.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to enroll in college. Many colleges and universities in fact, are only recently awakening to the fact that we need programs in renewable education – and are scrambling to set them up.
(Permit me a bit of soapbox time: It seems to me that colleges and universities, the bastions of forward thinking, are always the last to figure out important trends. As one who has taught at the college level for over thirty years, it seems to me that administrators haven’t grasped the importance of environmental education or renewable energy until recently. Where have they been? I know there are programs in environmental science and some in renewable energy, but they’re often fairly new and inadequately spported. Enough said.)
A far faster way to get up to speed is to sign up for courses on renewable energy at one of the main educational centers like ours of Solar Energy International (http://www.solarenergy.org/) based in Carbondale, Colorado. If you life in California, try the Solar Living Institute hhttp://www.solarliving.org/). In a few weeks time, spread out over six months to a year, you can get up to speed fairly quickly.
By all means, though, once you’ve completed the basic and intermediate-level courses, sign up for as many hands-on courses as possible. The theory and background material you’ll gain in Intro to Solar Electricity, even Intermediate PVs, is great, and the knowledge you’ll accumulate will help immensely, but if you’re interested in working for a company that installs solar electric or wind systems, you’ll need experience – as much as possible – to distinguish yourself from other candidates. Sign up for as many installation classes as possible. This will save your employer the cost and time required for on-the-job training.
That leads me to my second recommendation. If you are truly interested in landing a job in this field, get to it right away. You’re not alone.
As I noted earlier, there are a lot of people who have suddenly arrived at the conclusion that renewable energy is an idea whose time has come.
So, get going on your course work now.
If there aren’t any classes right now, you can begin by reading. There are many good books on these topics, available through our bookstore (www.evergreeninstitute.org), your local bookstore, and online.
In future blogs, I’ll discuss other tips on landing a job in the industry.
Landing a Job in Renewable Energy II: Start Networking Now!
copyright 2009 by Dan Chiras
In my last blog, I discussed the importance of obtaining training, especially hands-on training, to those interested in pursuing a career in solar electricity, wind energy, passive solar design, home energy efficiency, and green building.
Remember, too, that you can learn a lot from a good book. In recent years, there’s been an outpouring of good books on the subject. I’ve spent the last decade writing on the subject to help fill the void. If you’re interested in solar electricity, check out my newest book, Power from the Sun. If you are interested in small wind, check out Power from the Wind. If you are interested in green building or natural building, I’ve written a bunch on those subjects, too. But enough shameless self-promotion.
My second advice was to get a move on. In other words, get going, as there are many people just like you who are pursuing the same dream. Get your training now.
But what else can you do?
Another important step toward finding employment is get out and meet the professionals in the industry. Call for a brief appointment to talk with the owners of local renewable energy companies – installers, manufacturers, consultants, or whatever aspect you are interested in.
Remember, however, these are busy folks. Sometimes very busy. Try to make an appointment for a brief visit at their office. Don’t propose sitting down over a cup of coffee that you’ll buy – as many people do to me. (They want me to drive a half hour to meet them, chat for an hour over coffee, then drive home for a lousy cup of coffee!) Your $2 dollar cup of coffee won’t make up for the $100 to $200 we lose just getting to know with you.
So, call, ask for five minutes at their office at a time that’s convenient for them so you can introduce yourself. Bring an updated resume that lists the courses you’ve taken, especially installation courses. Bring a cup of coffee and a doughnut or a potted plant, perhaps.
Come well dressed and well groomed. Lead with a smile and a friendly hand shake. Don’t be pushy. Let the person know you are interested in a job and what your qualifications are. Point out your practical experience.
Remember, too, it’s not enough to say you’ve been interested in this field for 20 years. So have a million others. And, more important, why didn’t you get into the field 20 years ago like the guy or gal you’re talking too?
Long-standing interest always amuses me. Many of us have been in this field for a very long time, fighting crucial battles, earning next to nothing…we have the battle scars to prove it. And now all of a sudden, here you are, claiming this long-standing interest. It not only amuses me, it’s a bit irksome. I don’t know how others feel, but my guess is that it irks them a bit, too.
So, simply let your prospective employer know your profound interest in the field, what classes you’ve taken, what certificates you have obtained, and what hands-on training you’ve had.
And here’s a radical idea: If he or she says they’re not hiring right now, but maybe a few months, tell him or her you’d be interested in working as a free intern for a month or two – if you can afford the time.
“I’ll work for nothing” demonstrates a profound interest. You’ll surely get noticed. If the prospective employer agrees, you’ll learn a lot, too. If you work hard and appear to be a great employee, you may land a job at the end of your internship.
Besides meeting face-to-face with prospective employers, start attending national conferences on renewable energy like the American Solar Energy Society’s annual meeting (http://www.ases.org/). If you are interested in small wind, attend the small wind conference in Steven’s Point, Wisconsin in June each year ( http://www.the-mrea.org/smallwind.php).
More important, be sure to attend meetings of local renewable energy or green building groups, and be sure to attend their conferences. Shake hands, get to know the folks…you never know what might happen. You can easily locate renewable energy groups online. Check out your state chapter of the American Solar Energy Society as a starter. They’re listed on ASES’s web site. In my next blog, I’ll discuss the importance of certificates. Until then, happy job hunting.
Landing a Job in Renewable Energy III: Degree Programs
copyright 2009 by Dan Chiras
Interested in a job in the renewable energy field as an installer, engineer, or even as salesperson or marketing director? Now is the time to get moving.
In previous blogs, I’ve discussed some advice on obtaining training and also ways to secure a job once you’ve completed your training.
Many people who take my classes at The Evergreen Institute (www.evergreeninstitute.org) inquire about certificates and degrees? “Is it,” they ask, “worth the time and effort to obtain a degree or a certificate?” More specifically, “Will a certificate or degree increase my employment prospects?”
My answer is yes. Both will serve you well when it comes time to find a job. In this piece, I’ll start with the degree route.
A quick search of the Internet reveals numerous technical and community colleges that offer degrees in renewable energy. Here are a few examples, just to give you a sense of what’s out there.
Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, Wisconsin, for instance, offers an associate’s degree in wind energy technology (http://www.gotoltc.com/programs/windEnergy.php). This program is designed for those who want to become technicians that service large commercial wind turbines.
The Metropolitan Community College of Kansas City is gearing up to offer numerous classes in solar electricity and wind energy (http://mcckc.edu/main.asp?L=SustainableCenterOverview). Several of their instructors have taken courses at our center.
The San Juan College in New Mexico has a renewable energy program as well (http://www.sanjuancollege.edu/reng). They offer a two-year degree that focuses primarily on solar electricity.
Some four-year universities offer bachelor’s degrees in renewable energy. The Oregon Institute of Technology, for instance, offers a four-year degree in renewable energy engineering (http://www.oit.edu/portland/ree).
The State University of New York in Carlton offers a four-year degree in alternative energy and renewable energy (http://www.canton.edu/public_relations/news/alt_renew_energy_degree.html).
Unfortunately, I haven’t found a single listing of all renewable energy degree programs offered in the states, so you’ll have to do some digging to find a program in your area. (This would be a great project for readers who have a little spare time and who would like to make a significant contribution to the field.)
If you have the time, sign up for a two- or four-year degree program.
A far quicker way of receiving the training is to sign up for a certificate program like the Residential Renewable Energy Certificate offered at my educational center, The Evergreen Institute (www.evergreeninstitute.org). We even offer a Renewable Energy Educator Certificate.
If you want to become a solar PV, solar hot water, or wind site assessor, you can sign up for a certificate program offered by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (http://www.the-mrea.org/). I’ll talk more about certificate programs in an upcoming blog.
Landing a Job in Renewable Energy IV: Where to Find Information on Renewable Energy Training?
copyright 2009 by Dan Chiras
One of the most common questions I get as a renewable energy educator is “Where can I find information on renewable energy degree programs and renewable energy training programs (non degree programs)?”
The Evergreen Institute (www.evergreeninstitute.org), which in the interest of full disclosure I should tell you is an educational center I founded and teach in, offers hands-on workshops on energy efficiency; residential renewable energy, including solar electricity, wind energy, and solar hot water systems; and green building. We also offer several online courses through the University of Colorado’s Continuing Education and Professional Studies program – with several more slated to come on line in 2010 (http://conted.colorado.edu/programs/sustainable-practices/sustainable-building-practices/online-courses/). We’re not the only training facility on the map, though. There are many other options.
To find other training facilities, you may want to check out the Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s web site. They publish an online directory of four-year colleges and universities that offer both undergraduate and graduate courses in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Courses may be searched on IREC’s website by state, technology or both.
IREC also offers a renewable energy training catalog where you can browse for-profit and nonprofit renewable energy training providers in your area using a map-based search. You can “drill down” to view detailed information about each provider. To access this page, log on to: http://irecusa.org/irec-programs/workforce-development.
Good luck. And by the way, we’d love to see you at one or more of The Evergreen Institute’s workshops! You won’t be disappointed! We aim to provide the best renewable energy education in the world!