By KIRSTEN RUMSEY
How does someone get a job in the solar energy industry? 90% of employers in the Mid-Atlantic area find it either somewhat or very difficult to hire qualified individuals, according to The Solar Foundation’s 2017 Solar Jobs Census. And solar jobs pay well; an installer job pays on average $20 an hour. So how do we bridge the gap between inexperience and jobs?
The answer – job training.
Solar Works DC
The District of Columbia’s Solar Works DC program provides DC residents with hands-on job training, allowing them to gain the skills needed to get well-paying jobs in the growing solar industry.GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic is implementing Solar Works DC, which is funded by the Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) and the Department of Employment Services (DOES).
Participants in the program are being prepared to enter careers in solar and related industries, while reducing energy costs for low-income District homeowners by installing solar PV systems on their homes.
Two 12-week cohorts operate in the Fall and Spring and are open to District residents, ages 18 and over. Participants in the 12-week sessions complete GRID’s Installation Basics Training (IBT) program, earning industry-relevant skills certificates by demonstrating competency in real-world solar installations. In addition, the participants attend customer outreach and construction workshops as well as receive CPR and OSHA 10 certifications, and take the NABCEP PV Associate Credential exam. They are introduced to resources such as the Solar Training Network to enhance their job search. During the summer, a six-week prorated program runs for DC residents ages 18-24 through the Marion Berry Summer Youth Employment Program to introduce youth to the solar energy industry.
Breaking Down Barriers to Employment
GRID seeks to break down barriers that people need to get jobs in the industry. For many individuals; this 12-week program is just what they need. For instance, one participant, Drew used Solar Works DC to transition away from his job as a mail carrier and realize his goal of becoming a full-time solar installer.”Normally, when you jump into a field like this, you have to have some kind of experience,” he says. Another trainee, Nijah, was unemployed prior to starting her Solar Works DC training – now she is a full-time installer with GRID. The solar industry isn’t just made up of installer jobs, either. Batrina had just been laid off when she started her Solar Works DC experience, and is now working with GRID as a Workforce Training Supervisor, leading and training the next group of trainees.
The program has already seen great success; within three months of the commencement of the Fall 2017 cohort, 50% of the individuals had been placed in a job in the solar industry. Within a week of the Spring 2018 graduation, 9 of the 22 trainees were placed in jobs. Ayaz is one of the Fall 2017 cohort graduates. “GRID has honestly given us the tools we need to succeed in our job search moving forward. With all the interview preparation, all the resume and skill building, it’s been phenomenal,” he says. “The first time I got on the roof I had next to no experience with any of this technology and now I honestly feel confident going forth and going for my career in the industry.”
Job training programs strengthen the local workforce and provide individuals the opportunity to learn the skills needed to get well-paying jobs. Through programs like Solar Works DC, we can help ensure that everyone is included in the transition to clean, renewable energy that is taking place across the world.
Kirsten Rumsey is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator for GRID Mid-Atlantic. She grew up in Virginia and attended the University of Virginia, majoring in Environmental Thought and Practice and minoring in Mathematics. She also completed a study abroad semester at the University of Queensland in Australia. Post-college, she has worked multiple jobs, including a Fellowship with Clean Air-Cool Planet, creating an Environmental Justice learning experience for the United Methodist Women, and working as a Museum Educator at the Virginia Air and Space Museum in Hampton. In her free time she likes to do improv and make short films.