President Obama recently announced a new effort by the Department of Energy to increase the solar workforce by 2020. Previously, the Administration had a goal of training 50,000 new workers. That figure was revised upward, however, based on the progress made by the DOE’s SunShot Initiative’s Solar Instructor Training Network, an effort involving 400 community colleges from around the country. The initiative has thus far trained more than 1,000 certified solar instructors and nearly 30,000 students nationwide over the last five years. Now, the Administration plans to train 75,000 new solar workers by 2020 and many of them will be military veterans.
Solar Ready Vets, an initiative in partnership with the Department of Defense, involves 10 military bases across the country and will train transitioning veterans to size and install solar panels, connect electricity to the grid, and interpret and comply with local building codes. In time, the Administration hopes to enable this program to be funded by the GI Bill, and the Department of Veteran Affairs is working with DOE and State Approving Agencies to those ends.
This latest move by the Administration reflects a growing sentiment that, as America transitions to the use of cleaner, renewable energy sources, our workforce must be trained and ready to perform the variety of services necessary to upkeep our changing economy. Nearly one year ago, Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL) introduced the 21st Century Energy Workforce Development Jobs Initiative Act of 2014 (H.R.4526), which “directs the Secretary of Energy (DOE) to establish a comprehensive program to improve the education and training of workers for energy-related jobs, with emphasis on increasing the number of skilled minorities and women trained to work in such jobs.”
While the legislation was referred to the U.S. House of Representative’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training no further action has been taken on the bill. Like the Administration’s solar jobs push, this bi-partisan legislation seeks to “create a pathway to employment for minorities and other historically underrepresented communities in the energy sector. ” Domestic energy production now accounts for in excess of 1.2 million jobs, a figure that’s expected to more than double over the next five years.
Ensuring that we have adequate workers to support our burgeoning Green Collar economy is key, and the Administration and some members of Congress are rightly focused on increasing proficiency in clean energy jobs.