Solar training has been touted as a partial solution to high unemployment rates among the building trades and nowhere is this clearer than for the Solar Millennium's Blythe project in Coachella Valley.
This large project promises around 1,000 jobs at the peak of construction and another 221 permanent jobs — numbers that could make a significant impact to the local economy as more than 4,000 construction jobs have been lost recently in the valley due to the recession.
3 other solar plants — NextEra Energy's Genesis project, First Solar's Desert Sunlight project and another, smaller Solar Millennium project near Desert Center — could provide hundreds more jobs for the region over the next three to five years.
One barrier to filling these jobs though is the apparent lack of skilled workers in the area. And this is where specialised solar training comes in.
“The engineering construction contractor will do the hiring along with the trade unions,” said Billy Owens, director of project development for Solar Millennium.
Larry McLaughlin, who heads up COD's solar training programs, said union apprenticeships may be a key path to jobs on the project.
COD is on track to turn out about 140 prospective workers with basic skills in the solar thermal technology to be used at Blythe and two of the three other projects waiting for approval.
McLaughlin said, “A project the size of Blythe, they will have a hard time providing enough workers. If multiple projects get under way, they'll be creating new apprenticeship programs, and we'll have excellent candidates.”
“Field utility jobs are 60 percent mechanical; you need to be skilled with tools,” said Vincent Battaglia of Renova Energy in Palm Desert, which has a solar training program for workers installing residential solar.
“For those who have construction skills that need to be upgraded, there are many options.”
K Kaufmann covers energy and green technology for The Desert Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (760) 778-4622.