Military Veterans Finding A Friendly Welcome In The U.S. Solar Sector


Solar companies are hiring military veterans at a higher rate than other U.S. employers. That's according to a new report from Operation Free and The Solar Foundation (TSF). The report, ‘Veterans in Solar: Securing America's Energy Future,’ highlights findings from TSF's National Solar Jobs Census 2013 relating to employment of veterans in solar work.

As of November 2013, the U.S solar sector employed 13,192 veterans of the U.S. armed forces, the report says. That figure represents 9.2% of the 142,698 solar workers in the U.S. Among U.S. companies overall, only 7.6% of all workers are military veterans.

Andrea Luecke, TSF's president and executive director, says the veteran status topic was added to the census for the latest report. Motivated by a concern for the higher-than-average unemployment rate for veterans of recent conflicts, Luecke says her organization was interested in identifying how veterans could contribute to the solar sector in the U.S.
Among veterans employed in the solar sector, 39% were employed in the installation segment – in jobs ranging from solar designers and engineers, to installers and technicians. Twenty-seven percent of workers were in manufacturing, such as production and operation workers. The rest were in sales and distribution (14%), project development (6%) and other (14%).

Solar knowledge was important, as 77% of the employers required previous work experience related to the position. Many military members learned about solar at their service academy, Luecke says, and others learned in the field.

‘The Department of Defense (DOD) is committed to using more solar, and there are a lot of opportunities just by virtue of that commitment,’ she says.

As of 2013, the report notes, U.S. military bases had a total of 130 MW of solar installed – part of the DOD's mandate to supply 25% of energy with renewables by 2025.

The study did not cover how these solar companies are recruiting workers, but Luecke says many probably found employees through programs such as Veterans Green Jobs, Helmets to Hardhats and others.

TSF and Operation Free – a ‘nationwide coalition of veterans and national security experts working to secure America with clean energy’ – intend to streamline the process for veterans to find work in the solar business. A skills transfer tool could make it easier for employers to match a candidate's skill set with their requirements. Also, a translation tool could help employers decipher military resumes.

‘If you've ever seen a veteran's resume, it's full of jargon and acronyms,’ Luecke says. ‘You would not know how to recognize good experience if it was right in front of you.’

Some companies say they intend to seek more veterans. After TSF released its report in February, Jim Jenal, CEO of the Pasadena, Calif.-based installer Run on Solar, promised on his blog that going forward the company would hire at least one veteran to work in each commercial installation project the company wins. The new hire will work alongside a North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioner.

The ability to work alongside an expert and learn quickly is a trait that makes veterans attractive to hiring professionals.

‘We need disciplined, motivated and skilled workers – and we need them to come ready,’ wrote Nat Kreamer, CEO of Clean Power Finance, in a testimonial included in the report. Kreamer served with the U.S. Navy in Afghanistan. ‘Veterans are used to being dropped into unpredictable situations and forced to pick up skills quickly.’

Meanwhile, TSF hopes to secure funding to do a follow-up to the ‘Veterans in Solar’ report.

For more information on veterans in solar and to download a copy of the report, click here.

Nora Caley is a freelance writer based in Denver.

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