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North America

Home > Market > North America

How to Build a Solar Workforce: Lessons from America’s Finest City

According to the U.S. Solar Market Insight: Q1 2011 report, the U.S. solar energy industry continued to be one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy in Q1 2011 and is expected to continue to grow. This is good news for the solar industry and for workers who have the skills for employment. But what happens when there is a growing industry and not enough skilled workers to fill the positions?

By Barbara Fanning

 

 

In cities like San Diego, averaging 266 days of sunshine each year and the potential to the lead the solar industry, the need for skilled workers is real. Designated as a Solar America City in 2007 by the U.S. Department of Energy, San Diego, CA has grown the number of solar installations to 11,232 photovoltaic systems today.

San Diego like many other cities has come to realize that there are many things needed to grow and sustain the solar industry and guarantee there will be a skilled workforce to support it. Efforts must include marketing and community outreach, financial incentives and financing mechanisms, and education and training programs.

To support the solar industry and meet the workforce needs, San Diego is fortunate to have many non-profits, government agencies, and companies who work tirelessly to advocate for financial incentives, develop financing solutions, and provide training programs and community awareness.

This includes companies like Everyday Energy located north of downtown San Diego in Oceanside, CA. Everyday Energy specializes in the design, finance, and installation of solar energy systems for multi-family and multi-tenant buildings. The company started in the affordable housing sector when they successfully developed their solar service agreement, a proprietary financing solution, that allowed customers to install solar with little or no out of pocket expense. This financial solution combined with state and federal incentives, and virtual net metering made the installation of solar photovoltaics on affordable housing properties in San Diego and throughout California possible. This financial solution was so successful, Everyday Energy expanded to Orange County, Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

As they expanded, their need for skilled workers in solar installation, electricity, and virtual net metering, a new technology used in multi-family and multi-tenant commercial buildings, also expanded.

It was critical for us as a growing business to have a team in which we could rely. We needed electricians and workers skilled in the construction and solar trades but we also needed people with a positive attitude and work ethic, and a willingness to learn. When we aligned our workforce needs with the communities we serve, we knew the answer. Develop a training program that would provide training to the residents in the affordable housing community and solve two problems with one solutionunemployment and our need for skilled workers,” said Scott Sarem, CEO of Everyday Energy.

In August 2011, Everyday Energy launched their Green Jobs Initiative comprised of several training programs including PV101: Beginning Solar Installation. This course was hosted in collaboration with San Diego Community Housing Corporation (SDCHC) and was made available to residents from six of SDCHC’s communities. The course provided participants with the foundation and general knowledge needed to work as solar PV Installation Assistants and laborers and included both classroom and hands-on training in energy, basic electricity, and safety.

The hands-on training took place at Park Villas located in National City, which is currently the largest Multi-family Affordable Solar Housing project in California with nearly 2,000 solar panels spanning 18 rooftops. This 464 kW system generates 775,000 kWh of electricity annually, enough to power 144 housing units and property common areas.

In our most recent PV101 course, participants had the opportunity to get hands-on experience working on a 464 kW solar system which for several was where they lived. This course provided an excellent opportunity for participants to learn new skills and to be a part of something that is improving the lives of their family and of their neighbors. We were excited to be able to offer this type of service and support to our clients and their residents,” said Chris Taylor, COO, Everyday Energy.

 

 

Other efforts of the green jobs initiative include energy efficiency and energy conservation workshops and events that focus on teaching residents ways to reduce energy consumption and costs. Many of these are offered in partnership with local non-profits focused on energy efficiency and community awareness.

 

How They Did It

 

The first thing they did was to consult with the affordable housing community owner to determine if there was a need and an opportunity to provide training to the residents. It was critical that they understood the needs of the residents, the skills they already had, and how this type of training could benefit them.

The second step was to consult with experts in the training and career technical education fields. They spoke with Community College faculty, the local energy education center, California Center for Sustainable Energy, and experts from the energy and green building communities. Using this information, they began to define what they wanted to accomplish with training and what skills and knowledge they wanted participants to acquire. They also looked at several different training models and methods to determine the best fit.

Once the goals were defined they created a team of staff members with expertise in solar installation, electricity, and safety. They also hired a team of curriculum developers and experts in solar education and training to develop the course that included 2 days of classroom and 1 day of hands-on training. They quickly discovered that students performed better when they were able to apply their learning immediately. They plan to modify future classes to offer more hands-on activities.

In addition, to the training participants were given the opportunity to apply for a temporary position to work on the Park Villas project with a possible permanent job in the future. This incentive worked. Everyday Energy hired three of the students from the first class to join their team as permanent employees.

When given the opportunity to develop a training program in collaboration with one of our affordable housing clients, it was a perfect fit. This program allows us to provide residents with employable skills plus we are able to train and recruit new employees to work for our company,” said Scott Sarem, CEO of Everyday Energy.

As of August 2011, just 20 months after starting their business, Everyday Energy has installed over 2.8 MW of solar PV and has created more than 50 green jobs since January 2010.

This is just one example of how companies in San Diego are addressing the needs of the solar industry and creating a skilled workforce.

Other organizations working to support the solar industry include non-profits such as the California Center for Sustainable Energy; government agencies like the San Diego Workforce Partnership; and community colleges such as Cuyamaca College.

 

California Center for Sustainable Energy

 

The California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) is an independent non-profit that provides information, technical advice, and education on energy issues and policies. They specialize in program design and management, clean energy workforce education, and technical assistance focused primarily on energy efficiency, renewable energy and clean transportation.

 CCSE works with local governments, utilities and other partners to bring energy policy to life in the marketplace, providing a one-stop resource where decision makers, from homeowners to legislators, can get the information and tools they need to make better energy choices and help create a more sustainable future.

 

San Diego Workforce Partnership

 

The San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP) funds training programs that enable eligible adults to develop skills and knowledge needed for new career opportunities. They are designated by the County of San Diego and the City of San Diego to receive state and federal dollars that are used for job training programs throughout the region. This funding assists adults who are unemployed, at-risk youth, residents with various barriers to employment, and local employers.

 

 

The SDWP recently funded the development of 13 new community college programs with many focused on solar energy and green careers. This funding allowed the SDWP to infuse 5.23 million in training funds from the U.S. Department of Labor into local community colleges and California Universities when workforce training was needed most. The SDWP plans to fund future programs in the solar and clean tech industry as funds become available.

Training funding opportunities can be found on their website (www.workforce.org) under Funding Opportunities. The SDWP does not accept unsolicited training program proposals.

 

Cuyamaca College

 

Cuyamaca College located east of downtown San Diego in El Cajon, CA provides training in clean energy, green building, water conservation, and solar energy. Their solar curriculum provides students training in solar photovoltaic installation and introduces students to common applications, design configuration, and installation. The solar program also provides students with an OHSA 10-hour Card.

In collaboration with the San Diego Workforce Partnership and others, Cuyamaca College developed a guide to ‘Solar Companies & Resources in San Diego & Surrounding Areas’ and is actively involved in the Green Careers Network a website that brings together green job seekers and green employers.

 

Barbara Fanning is a consultant and owner of Mindswing Consulting, a marketing and communications company, focused on assisting businesses that are making a positive impact tell their stories. Fanning is responsible of communications for Everyday Energy(www.everydayenergy.us), a full service solar energy integrator.

 

 

For more information, please send your e-mails to pved@infothe.com.

2011 www.interpv.net All rights reserved.

 
 

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