Solar and storage industry players launch equitable workforce training program

By Kelly Pickerel | March 1, 2023

A new nationwide, equitable workforce training program has officially launched, called Building Equity in Solar Training (B.E.S.T.). The program will provide skills-based training and certifications needed for a successful career in solar, energy storage and EV charging.

B.E.S.T. is presented by industry players GRID Alternatives, Solar Energy International (SEI), Jobs for the Future and local partners Elevate and  Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County (CEDA) Illinois. Utopia Hill, CEO of Reactivate, a joint-venture of Lafayette Square and Invenergy, sourced several organizations to bring B.E.S.T. together and will launch the program in Chicago.

B.E.S.T. will provide resources to individuals and communities and work with employers to ensure job placement in the industry post-training, thus helping to make the renewable energy workforce more reflective of U.S. demographics. B.E.S.T.’s goal is to create not only jobs, but also launch sustainable careers with family sustaining wages.

B.E.S.T. is an outcomes-based workforce training program that places great importance on quality and a commitment to an equity-driven model. This process includes working with local partners such as Elevate to ensure that individuals from underserved or disadvantaged populations or communities have the support they need to enroll, complete training, enter a career with family sustaining wages, and overcome any barriers they may face. This support includes paid training, tutoring, transportation assistance, childcare assistance, and case management among other services. Trainees to the program include women, members of the BIPOC community, justice-involved individuals, and individuals from energy transition communities.

The curriculum was designed and created in partnership with experienced solar curriculum facilitators GRID, SEI, and Jobs for the Future. B.E.S.T. uses a mix of well-tested industry trainings developed to provide multiple certifications such as the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Installer Certification, OSHA 30, First Aid/CPR, as well as operator training, general building trades training, and customized content tailored both to occupational demand and to the needs of the target populations (e.g., those whose primary language is Spanish). There is also an emphasis in the curriculum on essential skills such as leadership development, problem-solving, teamwork, and a high work ethic. The program utilizes a mix of classroom training and hands-on training approaches, which Reactivate views as critical to ensuring trainees are ready to enter the solar workforce upon graduation from the program.

The first cohort of individuals in Chicago entered a 16-week program in February 2023 with an expected graduation in June 2023. A new hands-on training lab sponsored by Reactivate was built at the CEDA facility where trainees can apply their skills in an environment optimized for practical learning. During the program trainees will have the opportunity to meet with several employers including those working on Reactivate’s portfolio of community solar projects in the Chicagoland area.

“We all understand the importance of a transition to renewable energy to meet our climate goals. Those goals can only be accomplished if we provide opportunities and equitable training to everyone, especially those who have historically been underrepresented in this sector,” said Utopia Hill, CEO of Reactivate. “The teams at CEDA, Elevate, GRID, SEI, and Jobs for the Future are all aligned with Reactivate on this mission and are determined to ensure the long-term success of our trainees. This program is the direct avenue to achieve Reactivate’s goal of facilitating workforce training for 2,500 underserved workers by 2030, and we look forward to expanding this program in new markets across the U.S.”