Veterans looking for jobs in the local solar industry can get a boost on that career path through a program beginning locally next year, backed by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
This week, the board unanimously passed a resolution endorsing Empower America, a nonprofit based in Temecula that will provide two weeks of training for free to honorably discharged veterans, and then try to place them in the local solar industry. The program, currently operating in Riverside County, is scheduled to launch in San Diego in early 2014.
Mario Pabon, CEO of the nonprofit, said the program would work through local employment offices, military bases and other organizations to locate veterans for the two weeks of training. Each session would include 10 to 12 veterans, who will learn hands on how to place solar panels, so that they will be ready for the profession.
The program aims to help alleviate veteran unemployment, which has remained stubbornly high. While the overall unemployment rate has been on a downward trend, joblessness among veterans of the recent gulf wars was 10 percent in October, unchanged from October 2012.
“Veterans face unique barriers when trying to integrate back into civilian life, including high unemployment rates. We need to ensure that we are doing everything in our power to assist our heroes once they leave the military,” Supervisor Dianne Jacob said in a statement.
In Riverside County, where the program has been operating since August, Pabon said four employers have given authorization for more than 160 jobs. He said the entry level wages generally start at $14 to $16 per hour, but he said there is opportunity for advancement. He said the organization recently placed a warehouse manager, who earns $50,000 per year.
“Renewable energy solar is by far out in front and has a tremendous amount of continuing opportunity,” said Pabon, whose son is a Marine deployed to Korea. “A lot of these owners are saying, ‘look, we need the leaders that can run the crews and we envision the veterans that are coming in are naturally taught to do that.’ And so we see that as a phenomenal fit.”
Locations for the training have not yet been determined. Veterans interested in the program can call Empower America at (951) 296-0208, or visit the organization’s website, www.weempoweramerica.org.