By BROOKE SIMMONS January 21, 2013
Jason Shaw made the decision to pursue a career in the solar industry in 2010, after a frustrating year on the job hunt after being laid off from his electrician job in construction.
Before deciding on a path, Shaw reached out to Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area in Round Rock, Texas, to discuss alternative career options. In April 2010, he was paired with Cathy Redson, a solar photovoltaics (PV) instructor, at the Texas Renewable Energy Roundup’s green job workshop. They spent more than two hours discussing the various options for him to enter the green job field, and settled on a direction: With Shaw’s 17 years of experience as a licensed electrician, he’d undergo training in PV installation, with a goal to be certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).
Watch the video interview at imaginesolar.com/jason-shaw.
In May 2010, Shaw enrolled in the Austin Community College’s (ACC’s) continuing education solar program, and completed several courses in solar PV, solar thermal and wind energy. He continued to take renewable energy courses, but to qualify for the NABCEP PV installer exam he needed hands-on PV installation experience.
He struggled to find work, since his many years of electrician experience overqualified him for the open PV installer positions — companies were looking for apprentice electricians. Shaw was determined, and he decided to start networking: He joined the Renewable Energy Student Association (RESA) at ACC and became its continuing education outreach coordinator. (A year later, Shaw helped turn RESA into a student chapter of the American Solar Energy Society, making ACC the first community college in the nation to have an ASES chapter.)
At an April 2011 Solar Energy Entrepreneur’s Network event, Shaw met Ezra Auerbach, executive director of NABCEP. As luck would have it, Auerbach was in Austin to finalize the details of a new program with ImagineSolar — an alternative experience pathway lab for electricians that would satisfy the two installation requirements for the NABCEP Certified PV Installer Exam. The ImagineSolar course — PV330: Project Field Experience (imaginesolar.com) — is the pilot NABCEP Alternative Experience Pathway.
Shaw jumped into ImagineSolar’s experience lab that summer, and also qualified for the Comprehensive-National Electrician Solar Training (C-NEST) program, which provides funding for solar-specific training to electricians.
After completing the course, the next step was the NAB-CEP exam, one of the toughest in the nation, with 30 percent of people passing it on the first try, according to Shaw. He attempted the exam in the fall of 2011 and did not pass. The next spring he tried again, and passed, making him the first deaf NABCEP-certified PV installer in the nation!
After meeting this important career milestone, Shaw is motivated to pursue additional qualifications: NABCEP’s Solar Heating Installer Certification and PV Technical Sales Certification (nabcep.org/certification). Since receiving his PV installer certification, he’s had a contract gig as operations/project manager at Revolve Solar in Austin, and in late 2012, Shaw formed his own company, Blue Paw Energy Service LLC.
Blue Paw will offer solar energy installation service to anyone, but the company is uniquely set up to offer service to the deaf community, using sign language as a way to reach out and communicate to these customers — a rarity in the solar industry, said Shaw. He’s assembling a team of people, many of whom know sign language, including Suzanne White, Shaw’s former solar PV instructor at ACC. White will be involved with sales and solar system design.
The deaf community is made up of not only the deaf individuals, but also professionals (sign interpreters, teachers, vocational rehabilitation counselors, etc.), organizations, government and schools that serve deaf people. Shaw is interested in working with agencies and organizations to hire deaf people, and train and prepare them for a career in the solar industry. He’s working on getting the small business enterprise, minority business enterprise and HUD certifications so he can work with government and schools to help them with their solar energy needs.
Shaw has also partnered with Rona Banai, president of the Penn State Student Chapter of ASES, to lead a forum on “How to Kick-Start a Student Chapter of ASES” at the ASES National Solar Conference, SOLAR 2013, April 16–20 in Baltimore. The forum will be a luncheon networking event, as part of the young professionals track.
Shaw was re-elected to serve as the RESA president, where he leads a team that provides professional development opportunities for ACC students in renewable energy, building efficiency and alternative technologies for transportation.
“I really do enjoy the other aspect of being involved in the sustainable community, such as the student chapter I lead. I learned that it is vital to network and get to know the people in the community, which will lead to successful careers,” Shaw said. “I am appreciative of the support and how fantastic the community is in Austin.”