On November 11, we honor the service and sacrifice America’s veterans have given to this nation. It is disgraceful, however, that so many men and women who risked their lives for this nation come home and can’t find a job. Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the unemployment rate for veterans aged 18 to 24 were nearly two and a half times the overall non-veteran unemployment rate and four full percentage points higher than unemployment in the same non-veteran age group.
There is some encouraging news, however, and that is that in the solar energy industry is leading the way to correct this situation. About ten percent of all workers in the solar industry are veterans and that number is growing.
The Solar Foundation, in conjunction with Operation Free, has completed a study about veteran employment in the solar energy industry. The report found that in 2014, the U.S. solar industry employed 13,192 veterans of the armed forces, or 9.7 percent of all solar workers in the nation. This percentage exceeds the percentage of veteran employment in the overall economy. And, the solar industry continues to hire veterans.
That report found that the solar industry in the United States plays an important role our national security by making us less dependent on foreign oil. It also plays a major role in advancing a clean energy economy. Since 2008, the amount of solar in the U.S. has grown by more than 500 percent, with an estimated 13,000 megawatts (MW) of solar currently installed in the U.S. The U.S. solar industry employed nearly 143,000 solar workers in 2014, a figure that represents 20 percent of employment growth over the previous year. Solar provides an excellent opportunity for veterans and an even better opportunity for solar employers. The training and work ethic of veterans provides for a more productive and dependable workforce.
SolarCity, a solar firm with a strong record of hiring veterans, launched a blog on Veterans Day called “Veterans in Solar.” The blog tells the stories of some of the veterans employed by SolarCity. One of those stories is that of Frank Sandoval, a U.S. Army infantry sniper who served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, and elsewhere for 12 years.
When he returned home, however, life presented a challenge Frank wasn’t prepared for. Despite his service, which included missions that saved lives, he was unable to find a job and pay his bills as a civilian. In his words, he felt lost and utterly worthless. “That feeling,” Frank says, “is worse than combat.”
Today, all that’s changed. Frank serves as a senior inspections coordinator for SolarCity, where he’s had four promotions in four years and a sense of purpose and pride he never anticipated. He’d always thought renewable energy was for “tree-hugging hippies,” but now serving planet Earth is his passion. “I’m all about solar,” Frank says. The solar systems Frank installs on military housing has helped with his transition. “I feel like I’m going from one army to another,” he said in the blog.
Fellow veteran Jeff Gill, a SolarCity channel account manager who oversees a large sales staff, was a helicopter rescue swimmer whose roles ranged from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to door gunner for an anti-surface warfare mission in the Strait of Hormuz. “In the military,” Jeff said, “we cannot perform our missions without looking out for the well-being of our brothers and sisters in arms.” It is the same way at SolarCity, Jeff wrote.
“In an aircraft, unplanned conditions always arise,” Jeff said, citing the frequent need to make split-second decisions. “Then there’s leadership. Everyone has a leadership role to play in the military and at SolarCity.” Jeff has a maxim he says describes the essential logic which animates both SolarCity and the military: ‘Maximum efficiency, mutual benefit.’ Maximum efficiency represents a tireless dedication to improvement…In the military maybe maximum efficiency stands for a world without war. At SolarCity, it may mean a world without the need for fossil fuel.”
It is quite fitting that the solar industry is providing an opportunity to veterans. They have learned the skills necessary to win in battle. Those skills are badly needed to win the war against carbon pollution that is causing climate change. Who better to lead that effort than Americans Veterans?