Veterans graduate from solar training and go straight to Vivint Solar

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The first wave of military veterans to enroll in a US programme to train to work in the solar energy industry have graduated in San Diego, California and already been offered employment.

The veterans graduated from the programme at Camp Pendleton, one of three bases participating in an initial pilot programme to train 200 workers as part of a wider drive to train and recruit new solar industry employees in the US. Residential leasing and installation company Vivint Solar has already hired all 20 of the graduates, the company announced on Friday.

Vivint Solar was one of US solar’s five biggest companies – by numbers of employees- which signed up and committed to interviewing military graduates of the programme. Also involved are SolarCity, Sunrun, SunEdison and SunPower.

Training the 200 veterans on the pilot programme at Pendleton, at Fort Carson and Naval Station Norfolk is being done in partnership with Sunshot Initiative, the DoE’s cost-cutting programme for solar. The pilot was launched in September. Sunshot has, with the Solar Instructor Training Network Programme, set itself the target of training up 50,000 new workers for the industry by 2020, an unspecified portion of whom will be recruited from those leaving the armed services. Jobs the military personnel will be trained for include installation, sales and system inspection roles.

Following the successful first graduation of the Pendleton graduates, training will begin at the other two facilities in spring. Apparently almost one in 10 workers in the US solar industry is a veteran, according to the Department of Energy (DoE), which quotes a statistic that says 17,000 of 174,000 solar workers have served in the US military. Solar installers in the US are paid an average of between US$20 to US$24 an hour, according to statistics quoted by the DoE.

The Camp Pendleton graduates undertook an intensive four week training course, each learning how to size and install solar PV systems and connect them to the grid while complying with rules and regulations. Vivint Solar chief executive Greg Butterfield said his company was “honored” to recruit from the programme and “thoroughly impressed with the skillsets of its graduates”.

Sunshot Initiative’s director, Minh Le, praised the job creation of the solar industry recently, telling PV Tech the overall Sunshot Initiative was reaching 70% of its goal to make solar cost-competitive with mainstream forms of energy. Le also said that in addition to the positive effect on the jobs market, which meant solar is now employing new people at a faster rate than nuclear or coal, he found it particularly encouraging that a large proportion  as many as 75%  of US citizens installing solar at their own homes were from middle-income families, earning US$45,000 to US$90,000 a year.

Sunshot Initiative has also recently launched a number of other funding opportunities and schemes to foster research and development and manufacturing growth in the industry, aiming to target funding strategically at programmes and products with a good chance of succeeding. Minh Le recently revealed that the programme has reached 70% of its cost-cutting target for 2020.

Elsewhere in the US, the future of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) still hangs in the balance, with President Obama requesting its extension in his still-to-be approved 2016 budget.

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