The Department of Veterans Affairs chose the US Solar Institute (USSI) of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. as the first educational institution dedicated purely to solar to train veterans to install solar photovoltaics. Under the partnership veterans qualified for the new Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) can choose to attend USSI to train for a new career as a solar installer or as part of a larger education program.
The VRAP program allows veterans between the ages of 35 and 60 to receive up to a year of education assistance to be retrained in a new career, like as a solar installer. “That just hit the street, there were only 45,000 eligible people and they’ve all been filled,” said USSI President Ray Johnson. In 2013 it will accept up to 54,000 veterans in the training program.
USSI anticipates that veteran demand for the classes at USSI will be high. “This has been something that’s been coming for a couple of years. We expect to get a good turn out from this,” Johnson said. The school, which is open to all comers—not just veterans—has largely been regional but that may change. “This is bringing a bigger spotlight to us. About 80 percent of our population is international,” he said. He anticipates that this announcement and other news could bring more interest from people in the West.
The school is the only solar school qualified as an eligible institution for VRAP beneficiaries, according to Johnson. Some community colleges and others couldn’t qualify under the program. It’s very specific, he said. “We are certified and going through a true accreditation process, through the DOE.”
At this point the school, accredited by the Florida Department of Education to offer PV diplomas, is happy with teaching in Ft. Lauderdale and concentrating on teaching core standards, including OSHA, the Canadian Standards Association (Johnson has a lot of business in the Caribbean, which uses CSA standards). It’s also a partner of Underwriter Laboratories and a NABCEP PV Entry Exam Provider.
Education also includes a 30-hour certification through OSHA. “I believe the industry belong to electricians. We operate under the Florida law as certified electricians,” Johnson said.
The certification program includes 160 hours of course and field work both residential and commercial, in a technology agnostic fashion, according to Johnson. “We move out of residential really quickly,” he said. “You’re getting exposed to residential by the second day. Almost everything we do at the college is at the commercial level.” Students get both on and off-grid training through the program. The training could grow to up to 300 hours in coming months if more technologies, like concentrating photovoltaics are introduced to the curriculum.