Solar industry offers meaningful employment for returning veterans
For many military veterans, the transition from active duty to civilian life can be stressful. While life in the military offers a sense of structure and purpose, leaving the service requires facing many unknowns and often involves a difficult transition period. However, growing opportunities in the solar industry may provide veterans a pathway to a meaningful civilian life.
The unemployment rate for all veterans is lower than that of the general population. However, as The Washington Post reported, for certain demographics, including ethnic minorities and older vets, the rate has been as high as 10 percent in recent years. In fact, veterans in these groups see higher unemployment rates than non-veterans in the same demographics, in part due to factors related to their service, such as physical disabilities or injuries, a lack of civilian work experience or physiological barriers.
"Nearly half of all veterans face unemployment within the first 15 months of civilian life."
As the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs noted, nearly half of all returning service members will face a period of unemployment within the first 15 months of their return to civilian life. In addition to financial stress, the VA found unemployment contributes to emotional unease for veterans. The vast majority – 95 percent – of returning service members expressed a desire to work instead of relying on unemployment benefits, in part due to a desire for purposefulness. Additionally, studies have found prolonged unemployment may contribute to increased severity of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems.
Solar's growth provides new opportunities
While the VA and other government agencies sought to lower jobless rates for returning veterans, employment in the solar industry was booming. In fact, in the last six years, the number of U.S. solar industry jobs increased by 123 percent, according to The Solar Foundation's National Solar Jobs 2015 Census. Additionally, many of these jobs come with highly competitive living wages, and the solar workforce reflects greater diversity than that of many other industries.
As the U.S. Energy Department noted, solar energy is one of the fastest growing sectors in the country. U.S. solar capacity has increased sevenfold since 2008, and in 2015, one in every 83 newly created jobs was in solar. The Energy Department further projected the industry will grow another 15 percent in 2016 and demand for new employees will continue through 2020.
Meaningful work for returning veterans
The Energy Department and the U.S. Department of Defense recognized the potential of the solar industry to connect returning service members with both desirable wages and environmentally beneficial work. In early 2016, the agencies launched Solar Ready Vets, a program facilitated by the Energy Department's SunShot Initiative, which aims to make the solar industry more price competitive, and the Defense Department's SkillBridge Initiative, which connects transitioning active military personnel to civilian employment.
Solar Ready Vets meets the need for meaningful work for veterans by training them to become a disciplined and motivated workforce for the solar industry. The program is open to military personnel who are concluding their service and will train them for civilian jobs as photovoltaic system installers, sales representatives, system inspectors and other solar-related occupations.
"Solar Ready Vets ensures returning service members are welcomed with high-paying and rewarding work."
When announcing the program at Hill Air Force Base in Salt Lake City in April 2015, President Barack Obama noted the expansion of the solar industry is not only reducing carbon emissions, but also increasing America's national security through strengthening its economic growth. The private-public partnership of Solar Ready Vets not only ensures returning service members are welcomed with high-paying and rewarding work, but also allows veterans the opportunity to contribute to the growth of the U.S. economy.
"We've got to lead by example," the president said. "Invest in the future; train our workers for good, new jobs in the clean-energy economy. That's how we're going to keep our economy growing, and that's how we're going to create new jobs and create more opportunity for the American people. We're also, as a byproduct of that, going to make this country safer and we're going to make the planet more secure."
The intensive 4-6 week training course covers solar energy system installation, electrical grid connectivity, local building code compliance, rooftop PV system inspection, technical sales and other information. The pilot phase of Solar Ready Vets has launched at five military complexes: Camp Pendleton in California, Fort Carson in Colorado, Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, Hill Air Force Base in Utah and Fort Drum in New York. By late spring 2016, the Energy Department said the program will be active at 10 military bases throughout the country.
As the U.S. recognizes the need for increased investment in the clean-energy economy, Trina Solar will continue to propel the growth of the solar industry as a provider of renewable energy and new jobs for American workers. In fact, approximately 15 percent of all solar panels installed in the U.S. were created by Trina. As a leading manufacturer of high-quality, affordable solar systems, Trina is a driving force in the push for a more secure and sustainable future.