The solar industry, one of the fastest growing industries in the world, has experienced an average annual growth rate of 42% over the last decade, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Washington, D.C. To keep up with this rising demand, the solar industry needs to find skilled workers in areas such as installation, manufacturing, sales and management. Military veterans offer highly diverse skill sets, and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Solar Ready Vets Network positions itself as a bridge to connect the solar industry with these skilled workers.
The network “aligns military talent and skills with industry workforce needs as solar continues to lead job growth in the American energy sector,” according to the network’s website. Across several capacity-building initiatives, the program supports the solar industry’s efforts to rapidly develop a skilled and diverse workforce.
“We see veterans as a really valuable source of talent,” said Megan Howes, a program manager at The Solar Foundation, also located in Washington, D.C. “Military service members and veterans offer really strong organizational, leadership and critical thinking skills. They have a variety of technical skills, high capacity for teamwork and adaptability, and tend to have a mission-driven work ethic. This gives them the ability to excel in a wide range of solar careers.”
About 8% of solar workers are veterans, which is slightly higher than the national average, according to the National Solar Jobs Census. Of veterans employed in the solar industry, 39% work in the installation sector, while over 27% work in manufacturing firms.
Solar Ready Vets works to ensure smooth transitions from active duty to careers in solar.
“The network is designed to build the solar industry’s capacity to invest in military talent to meet the growing demand,” Howes said. “We don’t currently offer direct job placement, but we work to improve and expand training opportunities and career pathways for vets to fill diverse technical and professional roles.”
The network provides on-the-job training for transitioning service members and provides resources related to training, credentialing and employment for veterans. It also strengthens relationships and collaboration among solar industry employers, certified solar training providers, veterans’ services organizations and the public workforce development system. The Solar Foundation leads this program, in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes program, the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) and SEIA.
Solar Ready Vets has secured approvals from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for all of NABCEP’s solar certification exams to be eligible for G.I. Bill benefits, and it is finalizing veteran fast tracks to streamline industry credentialing based on skills gained through military experience. The network is also working with industry and education partners to create a standardized solar apprenticeship framework recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The Solar Ready Vets Network builds upon the DOE’s Solar Ready Vets pilot program, which was launched in 2014 and trained about 500 service members in solar installation through partnerships with 10 community colleges nationwide. It also draws on best practices identified through the DOE-funded Solar Training Network Initiative.
“In designing the Solar Ready Vets Network, we looked at the most effective elements of these earlier programs to outline several concrete steps that would improve training and hiring outcomes for veterans in a meaningful and sustainable way,” Howes said.
The Solar Ready Vets Fellowship places qualified active-duty service members in 12-week work-based learning programs with solar employers, intended to lead to permanent employment. Fellowships prepare service members for professional and leadership roles such as project management, operations and logistics, policy, engineering and business development. The fellowship has so far placed 17 veterans in management and leadership roles in the solar industry, according to Howes, and interviews are in progress for the summer cohort.
The network is part of a broader effort to increase diversity in the solar industry.
“We encourage the industry to recognize the value of workforce diversity as not just good to do, but as a smart business strategy as well,” Howes said. “Inclusion of diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives fosters innovation and leads to better decision making. It allows companies to promote and retain diverse talent.”
“The Solar Ready Vets Network is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office as part of an effort to prepare the solar industry for a digital future and modern grid, while increasing participation of veterans and other underrepresented communities in the solar workforce,” according to the network’s website.