In an effort to bring more equality to the solar workforce, solar manufacturing giant SunEdison announced Friday that it is giving a $5 million contribution to Grid Alternatives, the largest nonprofit solar installer in the United States, and whose work includes providing job training to women, minorities and other underrepresented groups in the industry.
Through this partnership, the U.S.-based SunEdison, which also develops and owns wind and solar power plants, and its philanthropic arm the SunEdison Foundation will give the Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit a mix of financial support and solar panels totaling $5 million, to be doled out over two years.
“This is going to really help Grid expand our work to provide equal access to solar power to all of our communities, and to build a pipeline of trained employees,” said Erica Mackie, CEO and co-founder of Grid Alternatives.
Grid Alternatives’ programs are rooted in using a professionally guided workforce consisting of volunteers and those receiving job training to install solar in low-income communities.
This is not the first time SunEdison and Grid Alternatives have partnered together to bring greater diversity to solar. Last year, the company announced it was giving the nonprofit $1.2 million to provide women hands-on training, mentorships, fellowships, leadership-building events and networking opportunities.
With the substantial uptick in SunEdison support, Grid Alternatives said it will provide hands-on training to more than 4,000 people throughout the country, and 40 individuals will receive a one-year paid fellowship with the the nonprofit.
Grid Alternatives will also boost its work to connect its job trainees with solar companies looking to hire. Efforts include building up a resume bank to match employers with job seekers and hosting job fairs.
Grid Alternatives also plans to carry on with the main components of its women-focused programming, Mackie said. “You certainly can’t have a one-year effort and say, ‘we are going to bring more women into the industry,’ and then think you’re done,” she said.
The timing of the SunEdison and Grid Alternatives partnership aligns with the current needs of the solar industry.
Solar has been rapidly growing. The number of solar jobs in the U.S. grew by 21.8 percent between 2013 and 2014 — with 173,807 people now working in the sector, according to the latest research by The Solar Foundation. This growth translates to an industry that is creating jobs nearly 20 times faster than the overall U.S. economy.
But the industry’s swift expansion is starting to take its toll. Employers are finding it increasingly difficult to find qualified workers, Andrea Luecke, the president and executive director of The Solar Foundation, told SolarEnergy.net earlier this month in an exclusive interview.
As solar companies look to fill jobs, SunEdison and Grid Alternatives want to make sure the industry is also working to build a more inclusive economy.
Although more women work in the solar industry than ever before, gender representation is low. Women accounted for more than 37,500 solar workers, or almost 22 percent of the 2014 workforce, according to The Solar Foundation.
Underrepresentation among minorities in the industry remains the norm as well. In 2014, Latinos comprised 16.3 percent of the solar workforce, Asians or Pacific Islanders represented 7 percent, and African-Americans made up 6 percent.
Mackie hopes the partnership with SunEdison will serve as a call to the solar industry to fill its need for well-trained workers with applicants from diverse backgrounds. To bring greater equality to the solar industry, “we need plurality of voice in our workforce and at the table making policy decisions,” she said.
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