“We believe that hands-on is the best way to train people in renewable energy, with real world equipment,” Jacobson says. “We don’t use tabletop trainers or toys. Students are building real systems. We set up lab stations with no more than two or three students, and give them the support to build stuff with real-world equipment.”
The project also provides professional development for faculty, as well as a plan for encouraging partnerships within the community that help define training needs. The school also supports students in the program with job referral and placement services, in addition to providing a “career ladder” for local high school students and displaced workers. The college also sponsored a workshop to help other community colleges design curricula that will include renewable energy courses within their existing electrical technology programs.
The college is the only institution of higher learning in the 18 state central region of the United States to earn an accreditation from the Institute for Sustainable Power Quality (ISPQ) for its solar training program, according to Jacobson. And, in November 2011, Wilhelm received the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) ISPQ certification as an Affiliated Master Trainer.
Moreover, renewable energy program students are certified by such outside organizations as the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners and the Communications Industry Training and Certification Agency, according to Jacobson.
“When they are done, these students who have had the focus track in renewable energy have some real skills in their back pocket and several third party certifications,” Wilhelm says. “So, as these jobs develop, they can be first in line.”