Interview with Todd Stafford, National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC)

Todd Stafford, Senior Director the NJATC, is tasked with oversight and development of Renewable/Distributed Generation technologies. The NJATC was a charter member of NABCEP, and Todd has been an invaluable member of NABCEP”s Board of Directors. He’s incredibly busy, traveling constantly, but was his usual gracious self to take time between airports to chat about his involvement with NABCEP.

Here’s our conversation.

NABCEP: Todd, what does the NJATC do, and what exactly do you do for them as Senior Director of Renewable/Distributed Generation?

TS: “The NJATC provides training for approximately 40,000 apprentices annually as well as Journeymen upgrade training for those that have completed apprenticeship and desire to further their abilities in the electrical construction industry.

As Senior Director for the NJATC, I provide oversight and develop Renewable/Distributed Generation technologies. This refers to curriculum creation for use within our industry but also technical committees, certification boards (NABCEP) play a part as they further development and creation of standards for the affected industries. There are other areas in which I am tasked with as well such as instrumentation distributed controls systems, power quality and electrical theory.

NABCEP: NJATC was one of the charter members of the NABCEP board. How did that connection happen?

TS: Yes, I am a Charter member. Mark Fitzgerald approached me about participating in the creation of NABCEP in the mid 90’s. I must say though, that Mark wanted the training arm of the IBEW, the NJATC to be involved, for he felt that the resources were needed to reach hundreds of thousands of potential workers in the PV industry.

NABCEP: So what’s the connection between NJATC and the IBEW?

TS: The NJATC is a separate training organization created in 1941 to provide training for the IBEW and the unique creation, the Contractors as well. The creation of the NJATC, by NECA and the IBEW, was to assure latest technologies were adopted that suited both parties–labor and Management. The NJATC is a true apprenticeship program in that it has indentures, sponsors, and employment opportunities.

NABCEP: Did NJATC’s membership on the board encounter any difficulties at the beginning of NABCEP? Were there any obstacles?

TS: The NJATC does not feel that the beginning of NABCEP was difficult, for it was created to credential qualified individuals to install PV. All the training the NJATC provides to the IBEW, and NECA, emphasizes quality over quantity. Any credential which promises to raise the qualifications of those within the electrical industry is always looked upon with favor by the NJATC. Any obstacles were more technical than philosophical. Identifying the areas in which electrical work is already licensed and performed was the main issue. Later, it was the determination of how to qualify for the certification, which created the greatest discussion among NABCEP, before it was actually NABCEP.

NABCEP: It seems like NJATC has been receptive helping its members become NABCEP certified. Do you think NABCEP’s affiliation with NJATC has been good for the IBEW? For NABCEP?

TS: From the NJATC point of view, I think the partnership between NABCEP and the NJATC has been a good thing. Again, it goes to raising the qualifications of everyone. Regardless of affiliation, raising the performance levels of electricians and others only increases value to end users of labor. This enhances quality of installations and improves lifestyles of the installers. These are two key values supported by the NJATC.

NABCEP: Have you seen an increase in members becoming NABCEP certified for either PV or solar thermal? How many over the years?

TS: The NJATC has noticed several members that have been awarded credentials for NABCEP. This number will grow as determined by local requirements and rewards for pursuing the credential. I do not know how many have applied nor completed the requirements for certification.

NABCEP: Does NJATC develop the solar training for its members? Does it encourage its members to seek NABCEP certification? TS: Yes, the NJATC does develop the training for our members. There are Federal laws that also mandate this. Specifically, we have to create curriculum that is for the advantage of the apprentice in our programs. In some cases, it does require that we use the curriculum exclusively in our organization. This is from the Federal Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training (BAT) which requires that monies contributed by participants in an apprenticeship program (in our case our contractors) are used for the sole purpose of furthering the education of the apprentice. In some cases we are able to share curriculum, such as the Photovoltaics Systems textbook, which was written by Jim Dunlop (who works for the NJATC), and it is used as the reference source by everyone throughout the industry.

NABCEP: So NJATC is mandated to offer very specific classes for its members. But does it also offer courses that satisfy NABCEP’s continuing education requirements? Has it developed specific courses for its members to prepare them for the NABCEP certification exam?

TS: The NJATC courses are prepared and delivered for what it takes to install PV systems. Each lesson and course are created and delivered to extend knowledge gained through apprenticeship. We provide training that is in addition to 900-classroom instructor contact hours and 8000 hours on-the-job training. When a certification is developed correctly it reflects actual requirements reflected by knowledge and performance requirements. With NABCEP, some of the knowledge and performance criteria do reflect actual job install requirements. Some test criteria reflect the job tasks of multiple individuals as determined by an existing electrical industry. Most courses developed towards education of the electrical industry are directly applicable to the PV industry. It hasn’t, however, developed courses specifically targeted to pass the NABCEP exam.

NABCEP: What’s on the horizon for NJATC and NABCEP?

TS: The NJATC hopes to have a long and successful partnership with NABCEP. The NJATC does recognize that the PV industry is changing, evolving with market factors requiring change, that the NABCEP certification exam must also reflect current conditions.

NABCEP: What’s been the biggest surprise about NJATC and NABCEP?

TS: Both NABCEP and the NJATC are searching for the proper method to do the same thing: we both want to make the public aware of that quality installations can be performed on PV systems. Both organizations understand that raising the quality of installations overall benefits everyone.

I’d say the major surprise has been the implementation of the NABCEP’s PV certification. Originally, the certification was created to credential one individual that “did it all” as this was the predominate business model for PV installations. That has migrated to the point where large systems contractors are getting involved and these large contractors bring a huge staff to the project. One person may do site qualifications, another estimating of performance, and even more for the actual install, and then the maintenance and checkout crew may be different. This specific breakdown of labor doesn’t fit into any certification category NABCEP currently offers.

Let me explain this a bit more.

On a large project site, the planning and site survey is done by an electrical contractor who may or may not have any experience with PV installation requirements, OSHA regulations, the National Electrical Code, etc. Then an installation team (in our case, electricians) performs the actual installation. Then the contractor owner, president or representative performs the checkout and turns over the project to the owner. Then there may be a maintenance crew. In each case, the numerous people working on the project haven’t had the benefit of knowing the scope of the entire project. It’s just not a very efficient business model.

For the NJATC, the rapid evolution of the PV industry has presented a special challenge to the electrical industry in how to obtain credentials.

NABCEP: I guess that’s why your presence on the board is so critical to NABCEP. There’s a constant need for awareness of stakeholder issues, and coming up with innovative problem solving and efficiency in the field.

TS: Innovation is the key. The NJATC has to find ways to train efficiently as well as prepare the largest electrical contractor group and their labor requirements for a business model that works for them. NABCEP is nothing different than other industries we are involved with. Each changes as market and work requirements dictate.

NABCEP: Thanks, Todd, for taking time to visit with us, and for being such a constant on NABCEP’s board.

For more information about The NJATC, or to contact Todd directly.