Interest in solar apprenticeship expands in response to IRA

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The apprenticeship requirement of the IRA requires that any U.S. taxpayer who employs four or more people must also employ at least one qualified apprentice. And, depending on when construction begins on a project, a certain journeyman to apprenticeship ratio must be met.

In a recent Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) webinar on the IRA, the registered apprenticeship programs (RAPs) were described as “structured work based learning programs that prepare and train workers for a specific occupation, and meet the needs of employers for skilled workers”.

For those considering starting an apprenticeship program, one resource is Adaptive Construction Solutions, which is a clean energy hub that recently won a U.S. Department of Labor grant. The hub focuses on assisting employers in creating and registering their own apprenticeship programs.

New programs are springing up across the country such as Real World Academy in New Jersey and the Sustainability Hub in Illinois. Rethink Electric is a contractor in Illinois that specializes in solar installation and electrical services, and it launched an apprentice program back in 2017 to train its own workers. Recently the company is experiencing great interest in its apprenticeship program and the company reports that its 2023 class is the largest to date with 23 apprentices learning the ins and outs of solar installation and electrical work.

“The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act signed by Governor Pritzker in 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act signed by President Biden in 2022 both contribute greatly to the current momentum in the Illinois solar market,” said Dawn Heid, CEO of Rethink Electric.

The merit-based apprenticeship cohort, called Rethink Electrical Advanced Program (REAP), is an education program in which participants are paid employees of Rethink Electric, often earning prevailing wage. Apprentices are assigned to jobs that help them learn the basics of solar construction, including how to use the tools, how a jobsite runs, and completing OSHA 10 safety certification. For the next 4 years afterward, participants follow a traditional paid electrical apprenticeship that includes classroom work and hands-on job training, with the goal of graduating to a journeyman level.

“Solar can be complicated and at times dangerous, which makes apprenticeship programs much more important,” Heid said. “The people involved put in a serious commitment. We need to develop them into skilled construction professionals to make sure our jobs are completed correctly.”

Apprentices in the REAP program come from multiple referral sources throughout the state, and its director of education reaches out to local high schools and partners with pre-apprenticeship programs through the Chicago Urban League Workforce Development Center.

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