Innovative Partnership Puts More Americans on Path to Careers in Solar
A new video geared to at-risk youth features AJ, who found out about the growing solar industry from his Job Corps advisor. Students throughout the country can learn about AJ’s journey to a rewarding career in solar, thanks to an innovative partnership between the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and Home Builders Institute (HBI).
HBI and IREC developed a unique program to bridge the gap between at-risk youth and solar jobs through the establishment of a solar training-to-jobs pipeline. This national model is based on hands-on, experiential training and valid credentials, both aligned with solar sector employer needs. The program was supported by an Innovation Grant from the National Network.
Solar employers consistently cite lack of skilled, qualified workers as one of their primary barriers to further market expansion. This is a challenge across industries, but is acute in clean energy, where even entry-level jobs require considerable technical skills and knowledge. At the same time, at-risk youth – Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school nor working – number above four million, according to the Aspen Institute.
The potential for ‘green’ jobs to pave a pathway out of poverty for at-risk youth has long been recognized, but a mismatch between training and jobs has led to frustratingly low employment outcomes.
“This program builds on IREC’s decades of success advancing innovative workforce strategies and will benefit the solar industry with access to a diverse pool of vetted entry-level workers with the right skills to succeed,” says Laure-Jeanne Davignon, IREC’s director of workforce development. “It provides opportunity youth with an employer-recognized credential, and access to a rewarding career lattice with pay scales above the national average.” (Salary information according to a recent jobs report by the Solar Foundation.)
For more than 40 years, HBI has partnered with Job Corps to prepare and place young people in building industry careers. Job Corps, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive residential education and job training program for at-risk youth, combines classroom, practical and work-based learning experiences to prepare students for stable, long-term, high-paying jobs.
With more than 50 years as a national leader for career training for the building industry, HBI is committed to building careers and changing lives of the diverse populations it serves.
IREC partnered with HBI during 2018 to bring solar skills and information about solar career pathways to HBI Job Corps students and administrators in selected markets. Together, the two organizations created a solar-specific, employer-recognized certification focused on residential rooftop photovoltaic (PV) safety and weather-proofed installation of structural components. The Residential Rooftop Solar PV Technician Certification builds on a solid foundation of common employability skills, as well as specialized knowledge in the building, electrical and plumbing trades obtained through HBI Job Corps training.
To ensure that the certification and training results in positive career outcomes for students, employers throughout the country were consulted during every phase of development. To validate the credential nationwide, IREC and HBI posed this simple question: would you hire a student with these skills?
Student-focused outreach materials, including a recruitment video featuring AJ’s story, are available to educate HBI Job Corp participants about the benefits of careers in solar, whether or not they live in a state where solar has a strong, visible presence.
“The Residential Rooftop Solar PV Technician certification begins a new opportunity for HBI Job Corps students who can learn and excel in a rapidly-growing sector,” said HBI president and CEO John Courson.
A national pilot conducted during summer 2018 enlisted 119 certification exam takers from HBI Job Corps. Next, successful participants will be paired with local or regional solar employers for placement in entry-level jobs. With funding provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, Job Corps has updated its solar curriculum to correlate to competencies in the newly minted Residential Rooftop Solar PV Technician Certification. Job Corps is also focused on upgrading hands-on labs, so students can readily practice the solar skills they learn in the classroom.
As Job Corps continues to recruit students interested in solar, IREC will replicate the program’s early success by developing increasingly advanced, employer-aligned certifications to provide a clear solar career pathway for learners. This effort is coupled with targeted and customized employer outreach in high solar growth regions.
A personal call to action ends the video created by IREC and HBI: “AJ is including solar in his career plans … will you?”
This partnership is one way the two groups are working to ensure that the movement toward a clean energy economy is fueled by skilled workers, without leaving vulnerable communities behind.
HBI and IREC thank the National Network for the funding to support this work.