B’more’s First-Ever Solar Training Program Shines Bright

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Baltimore City's Michael Harris is on his way to a career in the growing solar field.
Baltimore City’s Michael Harris is on his way to a career in the exploding solar market.

Baltimore City’s Michael Harris has been spending a lot of time on the Gilman School’s rooftop lately. Instead of working in security and barely scraping by, Harris will soon be a certified solar installer thanks to the new Civic Works’ Solar Training Program. This cool job training program is a direct solution in response to the city’s unrest of April 2015.  What’s promising, and hopefully replicated on a broader scale, is the collaborative job training model between federal, state, and city government, non-profits, and private business. If the Solar Training Program’s success is an early indicator, many more Baltimore City residents will soon transition into family-sustaining careers. 

In partnership with Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Employment Development received a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. The grant was specifically earmarked to fund out-of-the-box job training programs that support Baltimore’s underserved residents from some of our most distressed neighborhoods.

One of only seven U.S. cities selected to receive this sweet grant, Baltimore created the One Baltimore for Jobs (1B4J) initiative. Their goal is to enroll 700 participants, and the Civic Work’s Solar Training Program is one of twelve programs underway in Baltimore.

Civic Works’ Baltimore Center for Green Careers (BCGC) was an ideal One Baltimore for Jobs’ partner based on their proven track record. Since 2003, over 500 people have graduated from BCGC’s residential energy efficiency and industrial contamination remediation job training programs. Better yet, 85 percent of their graduates were placed in jobs that earn on average $15 per hour, which is twice the minimum wage. BCGC’s unique training model marries excellent hard skills education with softer skills coaching. Each participant is assigned a Civic Works case manager who helps participants develop personal goals and job-readiness skills.

The new three-month Solar Training Program offers graduates industry-necessary certifications, hands-on training in BCGC’s solar lab space, then followed by eight weeks of on-the-job training with employer partners. Rounding out the Solar Training Program’s long list of partners is a committed team of employer solar installers who sponsor on-the-job training and offer recruiting opportunities. 

Even though Maryland’s solar industry is expected to grow over 40 percent this year, 87 percent of Maryland solar companies report difficulty in finding skilled workers.

“We’ve been struggling to fill our ranks. This program is an opportunity to build the pipeline of skilled workers, and to also help knit the fabric of our city back together,” said Tom Gaines, the owner of Baltimore-based solar installer SolarGaines.

SolarGaines is an employer partner in the Solar Training Program, and recently began installing 288 solar panels on the Gilman School’s rooftop – the same roof that Michael Harris has been working on.

“I worked in dead end jobs before this training program. The Solar Training Program is making everything better for me and my family,” Harris said at the job training’s kick-off event. “I appreciate everything this program has given me. The solar job training is amazing, but I’ve really learned a lot in the personal development area, especially what’s expected in a professional way.” When asked what he likes about being a solar installer, Harris added, “I really like working outside and working with my hands.”

If you know of someone who may be interested in the Solar Training Program, click here.

Laurel Peltier
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Laurel Peltier

Laurel writes the environmental GreenLaurel column every other Thursday in the Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of UVA's MBA program, she spends her time with her family and making "all things green" interesting.
Laurel Peltier
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2 COMMENTS

  1. Wonderful article! You’ve conveyed a lot of details in an engaging way. I especially enjoyed hearing a bit of Michael Harris’ story. So often, business development is presented in dry, abstract terms. While statistics matter, it’s the personal stories that give us hope.

  2. It’s so refreshing to hear some good news regarding Baltimore City and employment. Yay for the Solar Training Program.

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