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Florida’s USSolar Institute Bringing Sunshine Back to the Sunshine State.

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sunshine-state[2] copyDespite the current economic crisis, some industries in the United States continue to experience severe labor gaps as they desperately search for qualified professionals to fill their rosters.  In addition to traditional standbys like health and medicine, solar energy has a dearth of certified green workers to satisfy growing residential and commercial demand for clean, renewable power.

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It’s ironic that during a major financial crisis there could ever be labor gaps.  The invisible hand of economics is supposed to correct such imbalances and bring equilibrium back to the market.

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However, experts cite two critical bottlenecks that continue to impede solar growth across the country:

  1. There aren’t enough trained installers to outfit properties with solar PV technology.
  2. Many of the certified installers that do exist lack advanced training in electrical safety, building codes, and solar PV regulations. Consequently, projects take longer to complete, assuming they are successfully completed at all.
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Nowhere is this contrast more apparent than in Florida – a state known as much for its year round sunshine as it is for its disproportionately high unemployment numbers.

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Florida’s solar PV potential is nearly unequaled in the continental United States.  And it already has a sizeable workforce of knowledge contractors who have been out of work ever since the housing crisis of 2008.  And yet, the state continues to remain on the sidelines as Germany, Ontario, Japan, and Spain leverage comparatively less sunshine to boost their respective solar industries.

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One school is hoping to change this by catapulting the Sunshine State to its rightful place amongst the pantheon of global solar PV hotspots.

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As the only solar PV college backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and licensed by the Department of Education, Fort Lauderdale’s USSolar Institute (USSolar) already has a long track record of churning out some of the best trained solar PV installers in the industry.

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However, the school is currently expanding its program to accommodate even more students as Florida and the Caribbean prepare for a number of upcoming multi-megawatt solar PV projects.  Within the next 6 months, USSolar will invest over $500,000 to hire an additional 20 workers to meet this international demand.

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These expansion activities are not without their challenges – continued support from the Departments of Education and Veterans Affairs stipulates that USSolar must satisfy placement quotas for graduating students looking for gainful employment after their training.  Historically, USSolar has successfully placed more than 90% of its graduates who complete their advanced solar PV training and earn certification.

In fact, solar recruiters throughout the region consistently time their prospecting activities to coincide with the school’s graduating ceremonies throughout the year.

According to green job recruiter, Joe Reed, “The combination of their hands on knowledge, ability to prepare plans, permits, system layouts, and overall safety mindset from being both OSHA and USSolar Certified – makes our job simple.”

It also helps that USSolar remains actively involved in the region’s solar market, as evidenced by Broward’s County’s Emerald Award for Climate Change Leadership (awarded this year) and a dedicated annual day of recognition from the city of Fort Lauderdale (awarded May 15, 2012).  In addition, USSolar frequently conducts many off-site workshops, roadshows, and large-scale installation projects throughout Florida, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Latin America.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, but our students are usually first in line when new orders and openings come along,” says Johnson.

USSolar chalks its success to the emphasis it places on safety, transparency, and reliability.  “Repeat customers are the driving force behind most businesses,” says Johnson.  “But because we train our students to install correctly, they only interact with their customers every 25 to 30 years.  This is the secret behind our formula.”