N.Y. developer and community college form solar certification program

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The Suffolk County Community College (SCCC) is working with developer Sunation to bring clean energy jobs to Long Island, New York. Holding its inaugural class over the fall semester of 2022, the college’s Solar Installer Certificate Program features an entry-level solar curriculum coupled with a paid externship and job interview process upon graduation of the 50-hour program.

The next term for the solar certification program begins March 28 on SCCC’s Michael J. Grant Campus, in Brentwood, N.Y., and upon completion graduates will receive OSHA 10 and OSHA Fall Prevention Safety certification. The program spans for four weeks and costs $850 to enroll, with scholarships available.

The solar certification program was initiated to prepare students for careers in the solar installation market.

A key differentiator for Suffolk County’s certificate program is the 16 hours spent working alongside different levels of field personnel on job sites. This includes working through all types of weather on rooftop solar projects and becoming familiar with safety procedures.

Integrated with OSHA safety training is knowledge of tools, job site protocol, and related products. Following the 16 hours of field work, students will have experience of a typical work day under their belt and can decide if they choose to move forward with a solar career, along with receiving feedback from their instructor on skills and personal drive.

“Suffolk is in the business of serving business,” said Dr. Ed Bonahue, president of SCCC. “When a company like Sunation comes forward with an urgent and significant workforce need, we will find the win-win partnership that provides students with the training that leads to good jobs and companies with the talent they need to grow.”

In the program’s inaugural fall 2022 term, training materials were gathered with Sunation vice president of special projects Brian Karp instructing a class of 15 students, for which all passed the certification course.  Of the graduates, five are now employed by Sunation, while the other students were offered positions elsewhere.

Inaugural 2023 SCCC solar installer class. (Photo: Sunation Energy)

“Dr. Bonahue’s team really stepped up to the plate and remain highly motivated to continue this public-private partnership,” said Scott Maskin, chief executive officer, Sunation. “It was a simple pitch. The students are the crops, I’m the farmer, and SCCC is the field. Let’s grow a new way of building a workforce.”

The solar certification program was a central theme for local business authority the Hauppauge Industrial Association of Long Island (HIA-LI), of which Sunation and the college are active board members. The Long Island Innovation Park represents over 55,000 employees in all sectors and drives $13 billion in regional revenue.

“The HIA-LI applauds Sunation and Suffolk County Community College for developing this collaborative approach to workforce development specifically focused on augmenting Long Island’s energy sector,” said Terri Alessi-Miceli, president and CEO of the HIA-LI. “By embedding on-site field work into the students’ program, employers will have greater confidence that they’ll be bringing new hires who’ll truly be committed to the job. HIA-LI is pleased to be able to foster cooperative initiatives like this one.”

Based in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., Sunation is a Pineapple Energy subsidiary that provides residential, commercial and community solar installation solutions throughout New York. The contractor was formed in 2011 and is a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) recognized Gold status solar installer.  The company also provides GAF Energy roofing products and Tesla Powerwall storage solutions.

The goal for the installer program is to offer three to four courses annually. Enrollment for the spring class, beginning March 28, 2023, is already filling and registration information can be found on SCCC’s website.

Solar apprenticeships shine

Apprenticeship programs across the country, such as Rethink Electrical Advanced Program in Illinois, are seeing record numbers of students learning the in’s and out’s of solar installation.  The apprenticeship requirement of the Inflation Reduction Act 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.  New apprenticeship programs are springing up in the Northeast and Midwest.

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