From Service to Solar: Advancing Solar Career Pathways for Military Talent
This Veterans Day, we honor the courage, commitment, and sacrifice of our nation’s veterans and military families. To the men and women who have worn the uniform of the U.S. Armed Forces, we thank you for your service.
Rob Riley studied geology as an undergraduate before he went on to serve in the Army, where he led a 270-person training organization at the U.S. Infantry School and managed Army facilities worth $4 million. When it came time to transition to civilian life, the IREC-led Solar Ready Vets Fellowship led him to an opportunity at Silicon Ranch, a solar developer based in Nashville, Tennessee.
During the six-month fellowship, Rob used software to identify potential solar development sites and engaged with dozens of landlords to negotiate options for sales. He supported the Operations and Maintenance team and found efficiencies to help the firm save $500,000. He’s now moved to a permanent role as a Senior Associate of Project Development.
“It’s an exciting place to be,” Rob told us. “I think we’ve got a lot of growth ahead of us both as a company and an industry.”
With unmatched leadership, teamwork, and mastery of technical skills, the diverse aptitudes and experiences gained through military service make veterans an excellent source of talent for the solar industry.
Through the Solar Ready Vets Network, IREC is connecting service members and veterans with solar training and career pathways, and advancing the industry’s efforts to invest in military talent as part of a broader, long-term workforce development strategy. This work is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, and implemented in partnership with the Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes Program, and North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.
Veteran representation in the solar industry has risen significantly in recent years. On rooftops, in the field, in offices, and in laboratories across the country, veterans make up about 9 percent of the solar workforce (compared to 6 percent in the overall US economy). The solar industry offers a highly collaborative and mission-driven environment that resonates with service members looking to rise to their next challenge.
Just this week, a new large-scale solar farm began operation in Texas, built in part through a workforce apprenticeship program led by McCarthy Building Companies and Adaptive Construction Solutions. The program supported on-the-job training, technical instruction, and mentorship for approximately 50 veterans.
“Veterans bring incredibly valuable skills and through our accredited apprentice training program we’re able to train them and provide a path for a long-term career in construction,” said Scott Canada, Senior VP of McCarthy’s Renewable Energy and Storage group.
Solar Ready Vets Network Programs at IREC
With the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, IREC’s Solar Ready Vets Corporate Fellowship Program connects active duty service members with work-based learning opportunities, allowing solar employers to capture the best and brightest military talent as they’re exploring civilian career opportunities.
So far, we have placed over 30 fellows with solar employers ranging from small start-ups to major national companies in roles spanning operations and logistics, asset management, project management, business development, policy, communications, talent acquisition, and more. (You can visit our website to learn more about the fellowship program and read profiles of recent fellows.)
The Solar Ready Vets Network also advances several capacity-building efforts to expand access to solar career pathways and improve training and hiring outcomes for veterans:
— We’re expanding eligibility of solar training and certifications for GI Bill benefits. Our team has secured approvals from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that costs associated with all NABCEP PV certification exams are reimbursable through GI Bill, and Solar Ready Vets partners provide technical assistance to community colleges to complete the registration process with Veterans Affairs.
— New Veterans Pathways now make it easier for veterans to qualify for NABCEP certifications and advance their solar careers.
— We help veterans identify opportunities for training, credentialing, professional development, and employment. IREC leads several initiatives to bridge recruitment gaps and help employers connect with qualified veteran talent.
— We’re launching partnerships between community college solar training programs and employers, designed to improve training and hiring outcomes at regional scales, raise awareness of solar career pathways, and equip students with skills to succeed in entry level solar jobs. Our team is also providing technical assistance to community colleges across the country to register their solar training programs for GI Bill eligibility.
Resources for Veteran Recruiting and Retention
Earlier this week, Solar Ready Vets hosted a webinar featuring the U.S. Department of Labor Veterans Training and Employment Service along with solar industry leaders. The webinar covered practical insights on attracting and retaining veteran talent, and success stories from solar employers who have implemented these strategies. You can watch the webinar here and check out additional resources to outline a strategy for your company to hire (and retain!) military talent.
Registered apprenticeships are a powerful and proven tool for workforce development, particularly for recruiting and retaining veteran talent. IREC and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) are seeking employer input and participation in the development of new National Standards of Apprenticeship for Solar Installers. Employers and other stakeholders are invited to join us during National Apprenticeship Week for an information session. The session will be held next Tuesday November 16 from 2-3 p.m. ET. Please register here.
Ready to join the ranks of military-friendly employers? Solar energy employers can join the Solar Ready Vets Network to stay current on all opportunities, resources, and events.