Training the Encore Solar Trainers

Rodney Ashley and Miguel Luna learn about solar panels at at a "green encore" training session.

The carpenters, electricians, factory workers and others who are getting a crash course in solar energy at Ohlone College in Newark, Calif., this week are testament to the promising encore opportunity to create jobs for all ages in the emerging green economy.

I've had the great pleasure to spend some time with the 28 participants who have come from around the country to learn how to set up solar training programs in their own communities. Ranging in age from their late 40s to their mid 70s, they're on fire to help high school dropouts, homeless men and women, ex-offenders, recovering addicts and other at-risk populations get ready for jobs that both pay a decent wage and help the environment. Ohlone's "green encore" solar training program is part of Civic Ventures' Community College Encore Careers program.

Their passion is palpable, both in the classroom and out in the yard where they are getting their hands dirty doing actual solar installations. The students are helping each other get through the math challenges, trading tips for speeding installations, and making plans to keep working together when the class is done. "An amazing group of people to get to teach," said Hal Aronson, the lead instructor for the class.

For example, James Smallwood, a union carpenter from the Philadelphia area who runs The Choice is Yours to train homeless people and ex-offenders in construction skills, plans to go to Detroit, to help Matthew Marks Evans of E-Three Labs set up his center to bring students and displaced autoworkers together to learn green technology. Mark Davis, the CEO of WDC Solar, who is working with a nonprofit to launch a nonprofit solar training center in Washington's Anacostia neighborhood, wants to keep the connections going by creating a network of "green encore" workforce-training and community development organizations.

On Friday, January 15, the public will have a chance to learn from the participants at a luncheon forum at Ohlone, "Expanding Green Opportunities with Encore Talent." Smallwood, Evans and Davis will discuss their programs, as will Ann Higdon from Improved Solutions for Urban Systems in Dayton, Ohio, and Zeke Guzman, from the Center for Employment Training in San Jose. Michele McGeoy from Solar Richmond, in Richmond, Calif., will present a very innovative non-profit/for-profit hybrid model that promises to drive demand, not only for solar power, but for the hiring of graduates from these kinds of programs. I've attached a (pdf) flyer for that program, or contact me for more information.