Friday, February 12, 2016

Solar as Economic Stimulus: Building a Green Workforce

The clean energy industry became a focal point of economic development initiatives during 2015, and the trend towards investing resources in building a green workforce to support renewable energy product development, manufacturing, and system installation gathered steam as statistics and funding rolled out throughout the year. With renewable energy installations accounting for 70 percent of new electrical power in the first half of 2015, and the Energy Department announcing an allocation of $12 million in May 2015 to create a diverse, well-trained solar support workforce, including professionals in the insurance, real estate and utility industries,” the push to enhance solar capacity in the US doesn’t look to slow down in 2016.
Photo Credit:  Dennis Schroeder/National Renewable Energy Laboratory
As the search for more electrical power options increases, so will the economic impact on regions that provide incentives for renewable energy companies to set up operations. For several communities confronted with the loss of large employers, the erosion of a manufacturing base, and high unemployment, the surge in demand for a green workforce has led to several initiatives that target specific workforce populations. Here are just a few examples of the innovative partnerships and programs happening all over the country:

Sacramento’s Green Capital Alliance: Diversifying Economy Through Workforce Collaboration
Following the steep decline of government and construction industry jobs in the Sacramento region, Los Rios Community College District and a broad group of leaders in education, business, community development, infrastructure, technology and labor created the Green Capital Alliance to improve the health and sustainability of the region’s economy. The colleges work closely with the Green Capital Alliance to ensure that the programs and the curricula offered meet the needs of the region and the needs of businesses.

Community College of Philadelphia: Creating a Job-Ready Workforce
In another example of academic-business partnership in action, the Community College of Philadelphia has created “pathways to rapid employment by recruiting, training and placing qualified veterans, unemployed workers, ex-offenders and local residents in entry-level jobs in the green manufacturing, and construction and weatherization industries.” Students become highly-trained, credentialed professionals who are then assisted with job placement by both industry partners and the college.

“Employers save a lot of time and money by not having to advertise and screen applicants, plus they know what they are getting,” says Project Director Wendy Ardagna. “Philadelphians get employed and companies avoid high turnover costs. We are fighting poverty and all its social and physical consequences to program participants, while doing rapid response training and placement, while also making everything as green as possible!”

Photo Credit Matt Paolelli
Solar Instructor Training Network: Nationwide Access to Professional Development
Created by The U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative and comprised of nine training hubs and over 400 community colleges around the country, the Solar Instructor Training Network provides future solar workers access to high-quality, local training in solar system design, installation, sales, and inspection. At the NC Clean Energy Technology Center, one of the nine training hubs, participants can gain professional development through the Renewable Energy Technologies Diploma Series or Certificate in Renewable Energy Management.

Solar Ready Vets:  Training Military Personnel for Solar Careers
A joint effort between the Department of Energy and Department of Defense, the Solar Ready Vets program trains active military personnel who will be leaving military service and becoming a veteran, and it prepares them to be strong candidates for positions in the solar industry.

Photo Credit:  U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Matthew R. Cole/Released

When communities support partnerships and workforce training programs like those above, they gain access to a rapidly growing industry that offers an expanding source of employment and a stronger, more diversified economy.