‘You’re part of a movement’: This solar industry training program focuses on justice-involved Philadelphians

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If you have solar panels installed on your roof in the next few years, Ahmad Shubert might be involved.

The 25-year-old resident of North Philly has planted trees and controlled invasive species in the city through PowerCorpsPHL. He’s now learning skills to enter the solar industry, which he sees as a different kind of environmental work that more directly impacts people’s lives.

“This is the other side of things that I don’t know about,” he said. “This is along the lines of helping the community — and work.”

Ahmad Shubert at the Solar States training warehouse in Port Richmond. Sophia Schmidt/WHYY)

Shubert is one of nearly a dozen young Philadelphians participating in a new program by Solar States that aims to turn people who the justice system has impacted into the next generation of solar installers.

They’ll be entering a growing industry. Solar installation across the country hit a record high in 2023, and is expected to be the top source of U.S. electricity generation growth over the next two years.

A three-month program for solar career readiness

The goal of Solar States’ Find Your Ladder program is to prepare participants to go right into jobs in the solar industry, said Moises Morales, the company’s lead instructor.

“They should be ready to go out and just join with any solar company, start installing right away, and be a functional team member for any crew,” Morales said.

The roughly 14-week program consists of a paid, part-time training program — with both classroom and hands-on portions — followed by a 30- to 40-hour per week internship. It’s funded through the city’s Fair Chance Hiring Initiative and POWERCorps and supported by the Philadelphia Energy Authority. It pays participants $15 per hour.

Trainer Moises Morales helps Eric Coleman demonstrate safe harness use. (Sophia Schmidt/WHYY)

The training program focuses on solar system installation on residential homes.

“They learn racking, actually how to attach systems to the roof. They learn different attachment styles, different systems … They learn the difference between, say, a pitched-roof system and a flat-roof system,” he said. “They also learned basic electrical installation.”

Participants get an OSHA safety certification and take an entry-level solar certification exam through the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.

“It is an amazing certification to have if you want to be part of the industry,” Morales said. “It definitely gets you a foot in the door in a lot of places.”

Shubert enjoys learning about the politics surrounding renewable energy and fossil fuel infrastructure, as well as the math and science aspects of the solar industry.

“Even figuring out how many solar panels to put on a roof — that’s an equation. Or figuring out how the panels turn light into energy —  that’s a scientific process,” Shubert said. “I really like that part.”

  • January 16, 2024
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