Two programs launched to get veterans working in solar

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In an effort to expand the role of veterans in the solar industry, The Solar Foundation has teamed up with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s “Hiring Our Heroes” program, the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) to launch two new workforce development programs for transitioning military service members and veterans.

The two programs: the Solar Ready Vets Fellowship Program and the Solar Opportunities and Readiness (SOAR) Initiative, are set to be funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) as part of the expanding Solar Ready Vets Network.

The Solar Ready Vets Fellowship Program is a series of 12-week work-based learning programs for veterans with with solar employers. What is interesting about the program is that the focus is on management and professional aspects of workforce development, rather than just installation, which has been a more traditional avenue. The program is being aimed at hundreds of transitioning and former service members from select military bases in regions with high demand for solar workers.

Similarly, the SOAR initiative will connect veterans with a range of solar training, credentialing, professional development, and employment opportunities via established program partnerships with solar companies, training providers, and workforce development networks, also in markets where there is a high demand for solar workers. Concurrently, SOAR also has the operational goals of establishing a Department of Labor-recognized apprenticeship for solar training, expanding the eligibility of solar training for GI Bill benefits and defining expedited pathways to solar certifications based on military experience and qualifications.

“This is a great opportunity for veterans of the Armed Forces to continue serving their country by building and sustaining clean energy industries,” said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director at The Solar Foundation. “It’s also a great deal for solar companies who are in urgent need of the high-value experience that veterans bring to the table.”

According to the U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study 2019 issued by the Solar Foundation and SEIA, just 17% of all solar companies have implemented strategies to increase veteran representation in their workforce, a number that these two programs are undoubtedly looking to raise. However that statement is not made to suggest that the solar industry has been, to this point, averse to hiring veterans.

Within the same study, which is based on the National Solar Jobs Census, the Solar Foundation found that 7.8% of workers in the solar industry are veterans. This is actually considerably higher than the national average, which comes in at 6.6%. Breaking down the solar industry by sectors, the highest percentage of veteran representation is in manufacturing at 10.2%, followed by operations and maintenance at 8.1%.

It has been an expressed focus of SEIA’s since Abigail Ross Hopper took over as president and CEO to increase diversity in the solar workforce. And, while veteran representation has not been lagging within the industry, it is reassuring to see commitments being made to increase the amount of service members in the workforce.