When I first got the assignment for this article, I accepted quickly. As a Lynchburg business writer, I like to tie back local issues to national trends. The topic was timely, both locally and nationally. While solar power is on the rise, the government was discussing whether to roll back provisions for solar power.
Shortly after publishing, Trump turned an eye toward taking away the Solar Investment Tax credit.
Later, his tarriffs impacted the industry, partially because the parts that American Solar Panel Manufacturers use to make those panels come from China. In spite of this, the industry has continued to grow both in the U.S. and globally. As a news junkie, I had been following the conversation surrounding the solar energy industry.
I was excited to see what Virginia was doing to prepare workers for that growth. My article focused on how Central Virginia Community College (CVCC) and Affordable Energy Concepts have created a new program to train students in solar power.
Published in Lynchburg Business Magazine
A Bright Future: CVCC Prepares a Solar Energy Workforce
Central Virginia Community College (CVCC) now offers an Energy Technology program, designed for students who want to work in the electric and energy industries as an entry level technician or solar panel installer. Fitting naturally with other Central Virginia workforce initiatives, the program brings together educators and local businesses to train young people in this rapidly growing industry.
Will Sandidge, Director of Strategic Initiatives at CVCC, explains the program’s inception saying, “The mission of CVCC is to offer the programs that the local community needs—what’s in demand. Whatever program we offer, we research it. We believe this is going to enhance the community and prepare local students for the workforce.”
From the Solar Lab to the Job Site
To create the Energy Technology program curriculum, CVCC partnered with the Center for Energy Workforce Development to make sure the degree aligns perfectly with the industry’s expectations for incoming employees.
Also, the college received a grant from the Virginia Community
College System, funded through Dominion Power, to build their solar lab. Training the local workforce was the main goal, leading CVCC to consult local energy companies.
“One of the advantages we have here is a great working relationship with the local energy companies. They’re very supportive of the college,” explained Sandidge.
Those local companies include: Appalachian Power Company, Affordable Energy Concepts, BWX Technologies, Dominion Power, Areva and TRAX.
Sandidge elaborated, “What we want to do is create a partnership working toward the same goal, which is put out as many technicians as we can. The need is there.”
One of those partners, Affordable Energy Concepts, installed CVCC’s solar lab and will support one of the core classes, “Photovoltaic Energy Systems.” Alex Haney, Project Manager at Affordable Energy Concepts and Adjunct Professor at CVCC, will expose students to industry fundamentals using the equipment on the rooftop solar lab.
“We installed three different types of solar energy systems as demonstrations,” Haney describes. “We used two different kinds of solar panels: monocrystalline and polycrystalline. We bought extra racking materials. They can take them apart and get practice putting them back together.”
Haney believes the class will prepare students to work with a construction team on solar installations. “In the class, students will learn a lot about how to do a site assessment. Meaning, which side of the roof to put the panels on or where in a field you would put it,” he says.
Upon completion of the program, students will be ready for a certification through the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.
Although most employers don’t require certification to work on an installation, it will bolster students’ resumes during the job search.
Industry Growth and Employment Opportunities
Currently, energy companies are searching for new employees with an interest in the solar industry and a capacity for installation. Cindy Wallin, Dean of the Science, Math, and Engineering Division at CVCC, wants their students to fill this industry need. She explains, “Any type of program like this is developed in conjunction with an industry partner or partners. That’s the driving force.”
The demand for workers continues to increase. “CVCC believes this is a good time to push energy. We know the industry is calling for a workforce because the current workforce is going to retire over the next five to ten years. They’re going to lose a third to a half of their workers just due to retirement. So, we want to help the industry be ready to meet their workforce needs,” Wallin explains.
In Virginia, solar power has been emerging for several years. “In our service region, almost every one of the counties has a solar farm already or they are in the process of building a solar farm,” Wallin says. “In addition to that, solar energy for residential areas is becoming more popular.”
For students, the CVCC certification can help them get on the job site within one year. “It’s affordable. It’s right here. You can do it full time; you can do it part time,” Wallin explains. “You can go to school and work at the same time because the classes are mostly in the evenings and weekends. And then, you can walk out with the skill set you need for a great entry-level job.”
As far as the ideal student, Wallin says the program is looking for “…someone who is a problem solver, possesses technical ability, works well with customers and enjoys being outside.”
Start Now to Finish Early
For those expressing an early interest in solar energy, high schoolers can inquire about dual enrollment. Some of the classes are approved by the Virginia Department of Education. Then, students can transfer to CVCC and complete the program in one year or less.
As the demand for solar energy continues to grow, so does the need for a capable, trained workforce. CVCC sees their role in the process as a simple one: prepare local students for a bright future in the exciting, expanding energy industry.
About the Program
• Career studies certificate
• Two-semester curriculum
• 24 credits
• Evening and weekend classes
• Financial aid and scholarships available
Source: Central Virginia Community College