A Guide to Solar Jobs for the Previously Incarcerated

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Formerly incarcerated people continue to face huge obstacles in finding stable employment. According to a recent report, roughly 60% of people released from federal prison are jobless. Research also suggests that those who did find jobs were given no job security or upward mobility.1 

Mass incarceration is a crisis in this country much like climate change. While many seem aware of it, not enough action has been taken to rectify the situation. Meanwhile, controversy, stigma and misinformation surrounding the issues spread as fast as West Coast wildfires.

But what if climate action could become the key to helping those formerly incarcerated re-enter the workforce?

How the Solar Industry Can Break Employment Barriers for the Formerly Incarcerated

Employment and education are two of the biggest barriers to successful re-entry for formerly incarcerated people.2

At the same time, clean energy employers consistently cite a lack of skilled, qualified workers as their primary barrier to market expansion.3

Currently, there are roughly 255,000 solar workers nationwide.4 In order to meet the clean energy and climate change goals set by President Joe Biden, we need that number to exceed 900,000 by 2035.

That means there’s a need for roughly 650,000 more solar workers.

Courtesy: IREC National Solar Jobs Census 2021

There’s a huge opportunity for solar to pave a pathway to stable employment for those looking to re-enter the workforce. And with little prior education necessary, all you need is to seek out solar installation training programs.

Solar Programs for People Who Were Formerly Incarcerated

Grid Alternatives

Grid Alternatives is an organization devoted to expanding renewable energy for everyone. Its mission is to “build community-powered solutions to advance economic and environmental justice through renewable energy.”

The organization has helped many re-entering people break into the solar industry through volunteering and solar installation training. On Grid Alternatives’ website, you can read many solar job success stories from re-entered volunteers and employees.

How to Apply to Grid Alternatives

Grid Alternatives provides hands-on solar installation training in its offices throughout California, Colorado, Washington D.C. and Nicaragua. If you live in any of these areas, you can contact your local GRID office here to see what’s available.

You can also sign up to attend an orientation to learn more about Grid Alternatives’ SolarCorps fellowship programs that may provide solar installation training opportunities in your region.

Homeboy Industries

Homeboy Industries is the largest gang rehabilitation and formerly incarcerated re-entry program in the world, according to its website. What started as a way to improve the lives of former gang members in Los Angeles has expanded into a worldwide network.

Each year, 80 Homeboy and Homegirl participants receive solar panel installation training in Los Angeles, typically at no cost to them thanks to donations. The current pass rate is between 65 to 70% — well above the national pass rate of 40%.

Homeboy also partners with companies to help its program graduates get hired.

How to Apply to Homeboy Industries

Homeboy Industries’ solar installation training program is a rigorous four-month, full-time program that offers tuition, tutoring and financial support. The Photovoltaic Training Program is held at the East Los Angeles Skills Center.

You can learn more about the program here or contact the Homeboy team at 

solarpanel@homeboyindustries.org.

Crossroads Solar

“Creating second chances and a greener earth one panel at a time,” is the motto for Crossroads Solar, a solar panel manufacturing company in Indiana. Crossroads employs those with felonies on their record who have “earned the opportunity to reenter the workforce with dignity.”

What’s cool about Crossroads is that it is their sole mission to help those formerly incarcerated, so every one of their employees has spent time in prison. In fact, it’s one of their job requirements.

How to Apply to Crossroads Solar

If you or someone you know is returning to society with a felony on their record and has an interest in working at Crossroads Solar, you can fill out an application here.

Apprenticeships

For some people, apprenticeships are a better option for re-entering the workforce. It tends to be easier to re-enter the workforce through an apprenticeship. They can also be great networking opportunities.

You may want to consider an apprenticeship if you want some more real-world, hands-on solar training to feel more confident in your skills — or, if you’d like to explore different solar industry jobs to find which may be the best fit for you.

How to Find Solar Apprenticeships

There are several apprenticeships out there for solar jobs. You can find them by searching for “solar apprentice” on simplyhired.com or on apprenticeship.gov.

Community College Programs

There’s such a great need for solar industry workers that more and more community colleges are now offering solar technology training courses. Search online using the keywords “solar installer community college course” to find a program near you.

Types of Jobs in the Solar Industry

Crossroads focuses on manufacturing solar panels while HomeBoy and Grid Alternatives are more catered toward solar panel installations. But the truth is, there are all sorts of jobs in the solar industry, some of them more niche than others.

Below you’ll find the primary careers we see emerging, along with their expected qualifications and salary. Note that the qualifications and average salary range tend to vary by state.

Solar Job TitleQualificationAverage Salary Range
Solar InstallerCertification or High School/GED$45,000-$55,0001
Electrician (Solar Expertise)Certification or High School/GED$45,000-$55,0002
Field Service TechnicianAssociate’s Degree$45,000-$55,0003
Solar Site AssessorAssociate’s Degree$55,000-$65,0001
Solar Marketing ProfessionalAssociate’s Degree$45,000-$75,0004
Solar Sales ConsultantAssociate’s Degree$65,000-$85,0002

1Data from Glassdoor. 2Data from ZipRecruiter. 3Data from Salary.com. 4Data based on our calculations.

Typically, the bigger the presence of solar in the state (California solar companies will be the best), the more competitive your salary will be.

Not sure if solar is your thing? You can still break into the clean energy workforce. Wind turbine technicians is another rapidly growing field. You can view the national directory of wind energy education and training programs here.

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