Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Popular Program Getting Vets Ready for Jobs In Solar Industry

Solar Ready Vets

Graduating class from Hill Air Force Base at a solar array on base

Nearly a year after President Barack Obama visited Utah and challenged the Department of Energy (DOE) to increase the scope of its Solar Ready Vets program administered in the state by SLCC, a DOE official is lauding the program as a model for others across the nation.

"This partnership with community colleges for us is designed to meet the needs of a broad range of American citizens and help them get access to jobs in the dynamic clean energy sector," said Deputy Secretary of Energy Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall at SLCC's Solar Ready Vets commencement ceremony in late March at Hill Air Force Base. Eighteen veterans graduated in the ceremony. The program trains veterans for careers in the high-tech solar industry.

Deputy Secretary of Energy Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall

SLCC in association with the DOE tweaked the Solar Ready Vets curriculum for Hill Air Force Base to help meet the solar energy industry's job-training needs in Utah and beyond. “We’re partnering with community colleges at each base,” Sherwood-Randall said. “Community colleges are an essential part in this endeavor.” She said more people in the U.S. are now working in the solar industry than in coal mining,  and a third of all new electric-generating capacity in this country comes from solar technology.

Solar industry job fair at SLCC for veterans

The day before the ceremony, veterans and service members attended a solar industry jobs fair at SLCC’s Miller Campus. They had just finished an intensive training program in areas such as photovoltaic installation and design, electrical theory, troubleshooting and solar technology sales. At the fair, there was a shared attraction to hiring vets. Vivint Solar recruiter Robert Freebairn said his Lehi-based company is rapidly expanding and hiring hundreds of veterans who, if they’re coming out of the Solar Ready Vets program, are able to “hit the ground running.”

“It’s going to be a great technology that will be booming," said Jess Shelley who is leaving the Army National Guard after six years, and completed Solar Ready Vets. "I decided to jump on the train while it’s still in the station,” Shelley said. Clarence Gleton, a father of new twin girls and senior airman leaving the Air Force after six years, agrees. “I thought it would be a great time to get into the industry.”

Clarence Gleton

Judy Fisher, SLCC program manager for solar technologies and the Energy Institute, said Obama’s visit last year to Utah brought a lot of attention to the solar program at SLCC. She has had to cap attendance in some classes and move others into larger classrooms. Fisher wants to add a course that focuses on designing solar energy systems for residential clients. She praised the Solar Ready Vets graduates: “This was a great group of students."

Obama’s goal is to see 75,000 Americans educated and trained to work in solar energy jobs by 2020. Over the past year, several U.S. military bases, including Hill, have incorporated Solar Ready Vets into offerings for service members transitioning to civilian life. SLCC’s Veterans completed in eight weeks a program that normally takes 16 weeks to complete. Some of the coursework is offered online, which allows active-duty service members at Hill the ability to learn without having to leave base. It’s one of the Solar Ready Vets “firsts” pointed out at graduation by SLCC President Dr. Deneece G. Huftalin. “SLCC is the first community college in the nation to receive approval from the VA to allow GI funding for this program,” she said. “Utah is also the first cohort in the nation to serve an Air Force installation.” Huftalin said she is proud of SLCC’s partnership with the DOE and the DOD through Solar Ready Vets, calling it a significant step toward supplying workers for low cost, reliable and cleaner energy for the country.

Sierra Copley