Trainees Today, Mentors Tomorrow


August 15, 2017
Four Solar Works DC job trainees stand by solar they just installed

After six weeks of solar training, the inaugural Solar Works DC cohort graduated in August.  Solar Works DC is a low-income solar installation and job-training program spearheaded by the Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) and the Department of Employment Services (DOES). GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic is implementing the first year of the program, preparing District residents to enter careers in solar and related fields while reducing energy costs for qualified low-income District homeowners. The program consists of solar installations, professional development and outreach workshops, construction trainings, CPR and OSHA 10 classes, and hands-on learning. By the end of the program, job trainees installed solar on 12 homes, a total solar capacity of 53.6 kW. 

The first cohort consisted of participants of the Green Zone Environmental Program (GZEP), part of the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). Most of the participants, aged 18-24, were introduced to solar for the first time through Solar Works DC. 

A Solar Works DC job trainee installs an inverter
Hands-on training allows for the trainees to gain solar industry skills
Devonta Sanders is one of those trainees. Devonta, twenty-three, immediately fell in love with installing solar. “It’s a great journey, I like the fact that it’s a new skill set. I want to make a career out of installing solar panels,” he said.

Reginald Chandler, a fellow job trainee whose background is in plumbing, was also introduced to solar through the program. “I like the work. I like dealing with tools. I like being hands-on. I like being on the roof a lot. I love the fact that I’m learning something new that I can take with me throughout the course of my life,” said Reginald. 

Other trainees felt drawn to the environmental impact of installing solar. “We are the ones who mess up the world,” Anthony Garner explained, “And by putting up solar panels, then we can do our part in fixing the world.” 

A Solar Works DC job trainee installs a solar panel
Devonta Sanders installs a solar panel
Whitney Jackson, twenty-three, found her favorite part of the experience to be the outreach workshops. “My favorite part was being able to talk to some of the homeowners and bring awareness about solar energy,” she said. Although she doesn’t see a future career in solar, she still sees the benefits of the program. “I know I want to get my degree in public health. Part of being a public health professional is helping contribute to making the environment safer and healthier and cleaner,” she explained. Most importantly, this training experience has allowed her to step outside of her comfort zone. “Now, when I go to a new job, and I’m doing something I never thought possible, I’ll think about how I climbed a tall ladder and got onto a pitched roof,” she said proudly. 

Nicholas Henderson, nineteen, a recent high school graduate, was initially introduced to GRID Alternatives during a Solar Futures mock install at his school, and was excited to learn he could continue his training with Solar Works DC. His high school provided technical training in HVAC maintenance, so Nicholas was used to hands-on learning. “I love it. I love working on the roof. I love working on the electric part. I love the team,” he said. 

Thomas Hill, the Site Manager for GZEP, and spent a lot of time with the job trainees over the summer, and was able to see their journey from start to finish.  “You see a big change from week one to when you get to week five and week six. They want to be more engaged and learn more,” he said. 

Solar Works DC participants pose with their graduation certificates
The summer cohort ended with a graduation ceremony for the trainees
The summer wrapped up with a small ceremony in Ballou High School. Odie Donald, Director of the DC Department of Employment Services said, “I’m extremely proud of you because you took a step in the right direction and took a chance and invested in yourselves.” 

Larissa Etwaroo, with the Department of Energy and the Environment summed up their summer by saying, “This is only the beginning and your futures are bright.” 

See the "Best of Solar Works DC" Flickr Album here. 

Read the Washington Post article about the program here!