|Mitchell Smith , Solar Richmond|
|Visit Solar Richmond's website|
Mitchell Smith says he learned long ago if you don't have a job, make a job for yourself.
The 50-year-old resident of Richmond, Calif., teamed up with an electrical contractor in Oakland to create a new solar installation firm that just won its first competitive bid: a $100,000 contract with Oakland's Housing Authority to install solar panels on a 25-unit apartment complex for older residents.
Smith, a longtime educator, spent the last 15 years with a variety of educational technology and software companies, working primarily in sales. Amid the economic downturn, he was laid off a year ago, his third layoff in two years.
"That's it," he told himself. Years earlier, he was director of a youth program in Massachusetts, helping inner-city kids find areas where they could excel academically. He had gained his building contractor's license years earlier, and for years had been a "weekend warrior," helping a friend run a remodeling business. More recently, he had become a supporter of Green for All, an advocacy effort promoting green-collar jobs as a pathway out of poverty, particularly for inner-city residents.
"I immediately started retraining myself, repositioning myself," Smith says. "I said, 'I'm going to see what I can do within the solar industry.'"
Smith attended a five-week solar training program by Solar Richmond, part of the city's RichmondBUILD work-force training program. More recently, he attended an intensive train-the-trainers program at Ohlone College in Newark, Calif., specifically for those making mid-career transitions into green jobs.
Smith has qualified for his solar certification through the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners and is now the training manager and job-placement coordinator at Solar Richmond. He's also a new partner at Net Electric and Solar Inc., which is bidding on dozens of additional projects and has already hired four other graduates of Solar Richmond.
"I'm now in position to help my fellow graduates," he says. "I'm giving back and I feel just great."
Starting any small business is tough, and the green energy field is just getting rolling. Smith says he's heartened by supporters who have helped with bonding, supplies and financing and he thinks the future is bright.
"We're starting to get some demand and some customers," he says. "There are solar opportunities out there. The market is not saturated, but one must be determined to provide the very best service to customers. Also, it helps to be committed to educating and training people about the global significance of solar power as an alternative energy source.”
Visit Solar Richmond’s website.