At least 190,000 veterans are expected to transition out of the US military each year over the next several years, and the federal program Solar Ready Vets is gearing up to match them with solar jobs. The Energy Department has just announced that it is adding five more military bases to the program’s roster of solar training locations. The agency will also pour $10 million into 10 new training projects that will help rev up the solar industry’s ability to absorb new workers.
Solar Jobs And A Smooth Transition
Solar Ready Vets was launched in 2014 as a pilot program to help the rapidly growing US solar industry recruit enough skilled workers to meet the demand. The idea is to establish the training programs on bases and begin the training process before veterans end their military service, so they can enter the civilian workforce as seamlessly as possible.
Each base is paired with a local community college or other solar training provider, leveraging the existing framework of the GI Bill.
The training is available to active duty personnel who are within six months of leaving the service. To sweeten the pot, there is no charge to for the training program.
The program aims at all aspects of the solar industry, including sales and management as well as installation and other technical positions.
Apparently Solar Ready Vets was a success. It has already graduated 250 trainees and, from an initial five bases, this week it doubled in size to include 10 bases. The new ones are:
Camp Pendleton in California – U.S. Marine Corps
Fort Carson in Colorado – U.S. Army
Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia – U.S. Navy
Hill Air Force Base in Utah – U.S. Air Force
Fort Drum in New York – U.S. Army
These are the existing ones:
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey – U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy
Eglin Air Force Base in Florida – U.S. Air Force
Marine Corps Base Hawaii – U.S. Marine Corps
Joint Base San Antonio in Texas – U.S. Air Force and Army
Fort Bragg in North Carolina – U.S. Army
What, nothing for the US Coast Guard? The Solar Foundation is the non-profit tasked with overseeing Solar Ready Vets, so take it up with them.
Solar Jobs vs. Fossil Fuels
In case you’re wondering why the solar industry has gotten a toehold on solar jobs at military bases, the reason is simple: that’s where the jobs are.
The US coal sector has been bleeding jobs for generations due to mechanization and other market factors, the oil boom has ended up in a massive crash, and the natural gas industry is also beginning to feel the effects of global oversupply and falling demand.
In contrast, the Energy Department notes that US solar jobs have increased 123 percent since 2010, hitting 209,000 by the end of last year. That’s the third year in a row for a growth rate of 20 percent or more, and the agency sees no end in sight:
The solar industry expects double digit job growth in 2016. Solar employment is expected to grow by 14.7% over the next year, which is almost eight times faster than the projected 1.74% U.S. employment growth rate.
Another part of the reason is that military skills translate well into the renewable energy sector. The Energy Department cites discipline, motivation, and technical know-how as key factors. Veterans are also equipped with a familiarity for highly specific rules and regulations, which helps set them up for understanding building codes, installation sizing, grid connections, and other details that are characteristic of the solar industry.
The numbers tell the story. The Solar Foundation has toted up the number of veterans in the solar workforce and has arrived at a current figure of 16,835. Proportionally, that provides the solar industry with more veteran representation than in the overall workforce. The Solar Foundation puts it at 8.1 percent, according to its 2015 solar jobs census.
Borrego Solar Systems is one example of a solar company with a proactive veterans hiring program that predates Solar Ready Vets. There are many others, including some that partner with non-profits to recruit veterans for solar jobs.
More Solar Jobs For More Solar Veterans
As cited by the Energy Department, the Solar Energy Industries Association has committed to hiring 50,000 veterans by 2020. That’s far more than double the current number in less than five years, so you can see why the private sector has an interest in partnering with the federal government to get things done.
The federal government has set an even more ambitious goal of training 75,000 workers by 2020.
The solar industry is going to have to overcome some challenges to absorb all those workers, and that’s where the $10 million will go. The new funding will provide support for solar-related fields like real estate, architecture, and policymaking. The idea is to ensure that professionals in these fields have access to information that makes it easier for solar installers to comply with local building codes.
The program is also expected to result in reduced costs for liability and insurance.
For an idea of the need driving this approach, consider that cities — most notably, San Francisco — have begun to require builders to ensure that a certain area of rooftop is available for solar installations.
The $10 million pot is being divided up among non-profits to administer 10 programs spread out across the country. Each program represents a different challenge area for the solar industry.
The Washington, DC-based Solar Foundation is getting some of the funding to run Solar Ready Vets in partnership with a team that includes the Florida Solar Energy Center, Solar Energy International, Solar Energy Industries Association, Truman Center for National Policy, and US.Air Force Brigadier General (retired) Steven DePalmer.
Another program, in Illinois, will focus on web-based, continuing ed training for real estate agents and related professions.
Tennessee will establish a training consortium for the next generation of power systems engineers, called GridEd-West. A similar, existing program in Florida called Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment will also get funding to continue its training program, called Engineering Education for Distributed Energy Resources.
Georgetown University (located in Washington, DC) will chip in with a multimedia training program developed by George Washington University.
New York will focus on integrating solar operations with training for 100,000 code officials, fire fighters and other safety professionals. The state will also host a photovoltaic certification program run by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, and a program for developing reference materials for professionals in the building design field.
Colorado will focus on training and educating state-level regulators and legislators about solar issues (we’re looking at you, James Inhofe!), with a focus on peer-to-peer information sharing.
Image: via US Department of Energy.
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