GRID Outreach, Training and Jobs
By Dianne Anderson
Top-level engineering degrees are always good paying, but for all those who may have missed that train, entry-level solar energy offers a living wage for a few months investment of time.
GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit solar contractor and jobs training organization, is making renewable energy accessible to local low-income communities of color.
Cynthia Corrales, workforce and volunteer manager of GRID Alternatives, said their training concept is building up skill sets with a variety of programs for veterans, local tribal members and a solar futures program for local youth.
She said the program is also trying to reach out more to African Americans, now at about 6% participation at their training sites for the first quarter. That number is still down about one percent under the statewide level, according to a recent 2017 Solar Foundation Diversity study.
“I think there’s much more that we can still do,” she said.
Parental or legal guardian consent is required for teens age 16 and 17. For those just starting out in the field, she said GRID’s basic training is a great way to build up experience and resumes.
“We highly encourage women if they’re curious about solar,” she said. “They can use this installation experience to gain that knowledge. This skill set will help them with their employment opportunities locally.”
Some trainees start off in careers in solar construction, but can shift to adjacent fields, such as sales, marketing, communications, accounting, project managers, and permit runners. She said numerous aspects of the solar industry offer a wide variety of jobs across all sectors.
“There are so many other aspects,” she said. “It takes a lot of diverse people and backgrounds to make this happen in our communities.
GRID Alternatives also partners with local high schools, community colleges, vocational training programs and universities, offering choices for different education levels in the solar industry, including corporate environments.
She said the organization’s co-founders, Erica Mackie and Tim Sears, started in 2001 specifically to help those who had the least access, but could benefit the most in cost savings and jobs. Over the years, she said fields of solar have not been as visible for low-income communities of color and women.
If they don’t see it in their neighborhoods, they don’t think it’s something that’s made for them.
“Out of sight, out of mind,” she said. “The first thing they say is I don’t see myself in the industry, and that’s where we talk about solarizing our community. Our goal at GRID is to say this industry is for us too.”
Getting the community involved in the clean economy is a priority, how the community can save on their electric bill, while also understanding the environmental impacts of dirty energy on their neighborhoods.
Once graduated, training participants are in line for job placement for short term or long term solar photovoltaic work through their SubContractor Partnership Program. The organization reported late last year that the program created over 2,100 job opportunities. Their SolarCorps Program is also expanding, and boasted 90% job placement rate for newly trained fellows, who on average represent 40% women, and 60% people of color ages 18 to 63.
Aside from basic training installation on the rooftops, trainees can gain other skill sets including electrical, which is mostly on the ground. Certification and training are available for up to eleven different skill sets. At the next level, she said those that have the extra background, training, and exam can move on to team leadership, focused on management and project timelines.
Even those with less than perfect backgrounds can apply for training. She said applicants are considered on a case by case basis, and that GRID continues to be a big proponent of second chances in the solar industry.
Most of their trainees put in about 200 hours learning first hand with ten to 20 projects. The “builds” also boost confidence and skill sets. Depending on how frequent they come out to the build sites, she said they can finish their first level construction-related training in five weeks.
Participants can prepare to earn from $12 to $17 an hour entry level, or more experienced installers can make up to $25 an hour.
But, she said it’s more than a job, it’s a state of mind.
“To have the students think not just about career pathways, but the role they play in their community, and seeing that change happen, that’s probably one of the most rewarding things that we do at GRID,” she said.
For more information, see https://gridalternatives.org/get-training/installation-training-programs