My First Week as a Woman in Solar

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August 26, 2014

My name is Wendy, I’m from the Coachella Valley, and I’m 22 years old. I’ve been involved in the solar industry for about a year volunteering with GRID Alternatives, and have recently been hired as a junior installer with SolarCity.  This blog shares my first few days as a woman in solar.

Day  1: My day started at 8am. I was nervous, not knowing what to expect. I was greeted by my boss. She told me to wait in the conference room. The rest of the new hires filled the room one by one. My boss then started the orientation. She had us watch an inspiring video about the company. When the video finished, she proceeded to greet everyone in the room. Then she had us introduce ourselves. In my introduction, I mentioned how long I had been volunteering with GRID. My boss then said, “You are the first female installer here in our local office. So no pressure.” But oh did I feel the pressure. Then the group was divided in two. The group I was in got some training on safety, how to use ladders properly, overview on tools, personal protective equipment (PPE), fall protection, etc. Then we got a little practice on how to install the solar panels using their equipment. I loved the system they were using. It couldn’t get any easier. After the training, I was given a list of tools I would need to buy. I was provided with a harness, gloves, knee pads, you name it. Pretty much all the PPE we would need. I also got my uniform shirts.  Luckily my favorite color is green!

Day 2: My day started at 7am. Right away I got started on my online training. The videos covered how to manage my timesheet, how to install the solar panels and field safety. Man those videos were long. There were tests after most of the videos. Some of them I had to take several times. I got a little frustrated, but I passed the tests. As I was watching the videos, I started thinking about the training from the day before. It was until then I realized that this job is not going be easy. This company has installs every day. They typically do installs from start to finish in one day. Some jobs have an average of 28 panels and other jobs are up to even 50 panels, with a team of about 5 to 6 people on average. But I’m not going to let the numbers scare me. I am determined to see it through.

Day 3: My day started at 6:20am. My first day in the field. My supervisor elected me as the first person up. Which meant I had to set up the fall protection on the roof. It kinda scared me knowing it was my job to set the anchors, make sure that there were no knots in the ropes. But with a little guidance from my supervisor, I got it. Then my crew lead came up and started the layout on where we were going to put the panels. I had to locate the rafters and mark them. Then I had to install the flashings. Luckily we were working with composition roof. The process was so easy and went by very quickly.  Later we started laying down panels. I cannot express how easy it was to install everything. But suddenly I wasn’t feeling so well. I tried to ignore it, hoping it would go away. I wanted to keep up with the guys. But my head started hurting more and more. The guys kept asking me if I was ok. I couldn’t lie about it. I told them I was feeling sick to my stomach. I ended up going home early. I was really upset about it. This was not how I pictured my first day in the field would be. Even though our team was trained on construction safety and heat exhaustion the other day, I was just so excited and determined to keep working.  I’ve reinforced an important lesson today about listening to my body and making all proper safety precautions out at the job site.  And you should too!

Day 4: My day started at 5:20am. Usually every Thursday, there is a safety meeting held at the office. All of the employees are there. We sat down and waited for the boss to start. She told us good morning. Then she handed out a sign-in sheet and a second sheet of paper. That second sheet of paper was part of an icebreaker intended for us to write down and share a near-miss accident or consequence. After that, we all broke into our crews and headed to the job site. This time the work was being done on tile roof. I stayed on the ground today learning how to prep the panels with the micro inverters and other little things. I seriously love the group of guys I work with. They are all really nice and supportive of me. They make me laugh, which helps because then the day doesn’t feel as long. I ended up making it through a 12 hour shift. I was determined to be there the entire day. The install crew checked in on me from time to time, making sure I wasn’t feeling sick like the day before. I made sure to stay hydrated. At the end of the day, I felt great.

I’m very hopeful for my future in solar. I hope to inspire other women to want to work in the solar industry. The work is tough, but very rewarding. I have to thank GRID Alternatives for all the training they provided me with. The wonderful support I received from them made me confident and really happy about my new career path. Thanks to them, I got my foot in the door with the solar company I now work with. I can only go up from here!

To learn more and get involved with GRID Alternatives' Women in Solar Initiative visit: http://www.gridalternatives.org/women.