An anticipated 250,000 U.S. military service men and women annually will transition into regular civilian life over the next several years. For many, that reintegration will present unique challenges: Barriers to stable employment, education and training are pervasive and faced by thousands of veterans every day.
To smooth the transition, the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative recently tapped The Solar Foundation to lead its Solar Ready Vets national training program. The program — piloted in 2014 and now active at 10 military bases — connects vets to careers in the fast-growing solar industry.
“[Solar] allows soon-to-be veterans the ability to continue serving the nation in a different way, by providing energy security to our country,” says Tenley Dalstrom, program director at The Solar Foundation.
The industry is adding 10 times as many jobs to the economy compared to any other industry. According to the National Solar Jobs Census report, there were over 200,000 people working in solar jobs in 2015. The industry itself shows no signs of slowing down as the workforce has increased consecutively by 20 percent over the last three years. Veterans account for 8.1 percent of that workforce.
Solar Ready Vets currently partners with the Department of Defense on military bases, and builds strategic alliances with community colleges and other local training providers across the country. Service men and women can build the requisite skills needed to get jobs in photovoltaic installation, systems inspection, sales and other solar-related jobs.
Training is free and conducted over the course of four to six weeks in a classroom setting with a hands-on curriculum. Each cohort includes no more than 20 active military personnel per class. After completing the course, students are eligible to take the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners exam to earn their credentials for entry-level PV installation.
The 10 military bases involved are Camp Pendleton, Fort Carson, Naval Station Norfolk, Fort Drum, Hill Air Force Base, Joint Base Maguire-Dix-Lakehurst, Joint Base San Antonio, Eglin Air Force Base, Fort Bragg and Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
(Credit: U.S. Department of Energy)
Dalstrom is working to onboard local employers looking to hire veterans as they re-enter civilian life. Her team is building a large database of employer partners to match them with military bases to interview and eventually hire potential candidates, quickly.
Solar Ready Vets is chipping away at the veteran unemployment rate that lingers around 5.8 percent, or nearly 500,000 people per year.
As green energy industries across the board face shortages of workers trained for jobs, employers are eager to hire veterans who they see as typically equipped with positive attributes they value like teamwork, problem-solving skills and the ability to manage complex logistics.
“The Solar Energy Industries Association has set a goal of employing 75,000 veterans by 2020, and we are determined to hit that goal,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the association, in a press statement. “Programs like Solar Ready Vets help set us on course to put thousands of these brave Americans to work through better training and a clearer path to a great job in the solar industry.”
The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.
Sherrell Dorsey is a social impact storyteller, social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social and economic equity in underserved communities. Sherrell speaks and writes frequently on the topics of sustainability, technology and digital inclusion. Her work has been featured in Black Enterprise Magazine, Triple Pundit and Inhabitat.