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Above: A little snow can’t stop students in the Solar Ready Vets program at Fort Drum in upstate New York from learning how to complete solar installations. “I went in knowing very little about solar,” said Jake Mayberry, who spent six years in the military, “and now that I get the bigger picture of how it works, I know enough to get a job as a junior installer with most companies.” Image courtesy Fort Drum.
The Solar Ready Vets program is off to another strong start in 2016. On February 17, twenty transitioning veterans graduated from the first cohort at Fort Drum in New York. As the program plans expansion to five more bases, the Solar Ready Vets program’s five bases are already providing the booming solar energy industry with many of the new well-trained workers it needs. The solar job market expanded 123% over the past six years, and more growth is expected, so the program is ramping up at a critical time.
Training these military service members and veterans ensures graduates enter the industry armed with knowledge to succeed in their civilian careers.
So, what exactly happens during the five weeks of training?
“During the first week, we focus on the basics,” says Kevin McAdoo, lead instructor at Fort Drum. “We give an introduction to solar – what’s happening in the industry, where the jobs are, and what employment looks like. We also review basic electricity, give a math refresher, and teach them how to determine the best angles for panel installation so they get the most exposure to the sun.”
The second and third weeks of training are more rigorous, with students learning about solar modules and completing hands-on work. Instructors also teach about the cells inside modules, how the cells generate electricity, and how electrical system are designed. Students also have the opportunity to assemble a racking structure, install panels on a roof, connect the panels to an inverter, and complete the necessary wiring to make the solar energy system work.
“It’s good for the students to see how to set up a system from beginning to end – sizing it, putting panels on, hooking them up, and getting them running,” McAdoo added. “We also cover troubleshooting and maintenance, including the most common problems with solar systems, so they know what to look for if issues arise during installation.”
The final weeks of the course set up students for career success. Students prepare for and take the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners entry-level exam and earn their Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) certification. They also attend résumé writing workshops to prepare for interviews with representatives from national solar companies.
“The instructors are very knowledgeable about the solar industry,” said Brian Crawford, an Army veteran with 30 years of service who is about to graduate from the program. “You’re not going to get anywhere in the industry until you know all of the nooks and crannies of it. Any question that we have, they have an answer. We learn the theory in the classroom, and then take our knowledge and apply it in a hands-on environment.”
“This program timed perfectly with the end of my military career,” said Matthew Peck, an Army staff sergeant about to retire after 25 years of service. “I couldn’t have picked a better curriculum to help me get a job. From starting with no solar knowledge a month ago, I feel very prepared to enter the solar industry.”