by Gerry Bernstein
California/Hawaii Regional Training Provider

Of the total employed workforce in California, 28 percent speak Spanish. Of those, half speak English with only limited proficiency.  To expand employment opportunities for this large share of the population, Region 8 (California-Hawaii) SITN program launched a mini-grant program in the Fall of 2013 to fund PV installation courses in Spanish at three colleges.

Each college used a different instructional model.  College of the Desert (COD, Rancho Mirage) offered the training for eight weeks, meeting two evenings per week to accommodate those who had other jobs.  At the end of the course, the class conducted an actual installation.

West Valley College (WVC, San Jose) offered two complementary, non-credit courses with 56 hours of instruction in Spanish. Classes in solar site planning and installation included lecture and lab components.

The third training at Santa Monica College (SMC, Santa Monica) is a 30-hour evening course including both classroom and lab activities derived from its full credit course. The first two of these are taught by Spanish-speaking, PV-experienced instructors, while the SMC course is team taught by a PV instructor with some Spanish skills and an electrical engineer who is fluent in Spanish.  All the courses were fully subscribed; two had to turn away students.

Solar Training in Spanish PV students from College of the Desert, Rancho Mirage, CA
Instructors Servando Gereau and Joe Wachsmuth (front) and some of their Spanish Language PV Installation course students at College of the Desert, Rancho Mirage, CA.

“It’s hugely gratifying that former students are contacting me regarding their new employment in the solar industry and commenting on how much they love their new job,” said Servando Gereau, lead instructor at the COD program who also teaches the PV installation program in English. “While I’m not privy to the statistics on how many former students are now in the solar industry, judging from the ones who contact me after graduating, I would venture to say that at least half are involved in the industry.  Very often former students visit me during on-going solar classes, sharing their real-world experiences with the new classes and offering encouraging words to the new students about the solar world. This applies whether they are primarily English or Spanish speaking.”

The benefits are articulated by the students also.

“I want to do something different,” said Martin Reyes, 44 and father of two, who was quoted in a Desert Sun interview.   Reyes speaks English decently, but is more comfortable in his native Spanish, especially for the math and science he is learning as a foundation for the solar training. “There are too many numbers, too many names,” he said. “In Spanish, I can go exactly to the point. I feel I can do better.”

Region 8 will be supporting a new round to Spanish mini-grants in 2014.  This program has gained attention in other regions, including a curriculum request from Texas.