SPI 2018

Strategies for a Stronger Solar Workforce: Best and Emerging Practices

Tuesday, September 25
3:30 PM - 4:30 PM
Location: Installer Training: Booth 1486

The number of solar jobs has nearly tripled in the past seven years. Even in 2017, the first year that the National Solar Jobs Census saw an overall decline in job growth, solar employment went up in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Year after year, however, the rise in solar jobs has gone hand-in-hand with shortages of skilled employees; 85% of the industry reported difficulty filling open positions in 2017. Chris Walker, The Solar Foundation’s lead on the Solar Training Network (STN), a U.S. Department of Energy-funded workforce development program, will introduce STN’s new toolkit for the solar industry. Industry panelists will highlight their company’s workforce efforts to improve training and hiring practices, partner with community colleges, increase diversity, empower women, and hire more veterans.

Chris Walker, MA

Sr. Program Manager
The Solar Foundation

Chris Walker is a Senior Program Manager at The Solar Foundation (TSF), where he leads the Solar Training Network, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office designed to help meet the workforce needs of the solar industry through convening a solar jobs strategy commission and a network of employers, training providers, and workforce boards; holding career fairs and instructor-employer summits; supporting hands-on learning opportunities for job seekers; performing workforce research; and developing workforce tools and resources. Chris has also worked on SolSmart at TSF, a federal solar technical assistance and designation program for local governments. Before going to The Solar Foundation, Chris worked in residential sales at SolarCity dba Tesla Energy, at the Climate Institute, a DC-based think tank, and volunteered extensively with the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program. Chris holds B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Florida in Political Science, with concentrations in global political economy and sustainable development.


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Erika Symmonds

VP, Workforce Development and Service-Learning
GRID Alternatives

Erika Symmonds joined GRID Alternatives in 2015 to help launch its new workforce initiatives and ensure that solar career opportunities are accessible to individuals in disadvantaged communities. Erika and the team at GRID develop and deliver training opportunties building upon the unique "classroom on the roof" experience they've been providing for over a decade, and make connections between employers and trainees. Ms. Symmonds came to GRID from Green City Force, a New York-based nonprofit she co-founded to connect youth of low-income backgrounds to opportunities in the green economy. She received numerous accolades for her work there: in 2013, Green City Force was named the “Most Innovative Nonprofit in NYC” by Mayor Bloomberg and in 2014, the nonprofit was chosen to receive the Advocates Award by Environmental Associates of New York. She is motivated by opportunties to be a part of solutions addressing the intersection of environmental, economical, gender, and race related inequities. She is a Brooklyn, New York native and holds a degree in Media Arts and Sciences from Wellesley College.


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Cameron Bard

Director, Operations
Cypress Creek Renewabales

Cameron Bard is the Director of Operations at Cypress Creek Renewables, a leading solar developer building strong and healthy communities. Over the past year, Cameron oversaw the launch of the company’s national workforce development initiative, which now includes five partnerships with technical and community colleges supporting hundreds of solar students throughout the country. Previously, he served as the Chief of Staff to New York State's energy czar, Richard Kauffman, in the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. In this role, he helped develop and execute the administration's clean energy agenda to lead on climate change and grow the state's economy with a nation-leading 50% renewables commitment. Cameron is also an adjunct instructor at both UCLA and New York University, where he teaches classes on the role of government and public policy in shaping the US energy industry.


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Jeff Vasek

Sr. Director, Training and Professional Development

Jeff Vasek has worn many different hats. He taught sales education at the high school level, then attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University where he received his Ed.D. in Microcomputer Education—the first degree of it’s kind in the United States. His graduate studies landed him a job at fledgling Apple Computer in the early 80’s. Jeff created documentation and training materials for many of Apple’s early products, and managed the development of many innovative training platforms and techniques. Over a 20-year period Jeff worked at several other high-tech companies, including Claris, Frame, Netscape, AOL, and eBay.

Then Jeff put on different hat and pursued a life-long dream of building houses. He became a licensed general contractor and real estate developer, and spent nearly a decade building custom homes and renovating houses. When Jeff discovered that many of his clients wanted to do part of the project themselves--but lacked the skill and knowledge necessary to tackle their own home improvement projects--he created the DIY Academy, a home improvement learning center. The DIY Academy was a one-of-a-kind business in the U.S., employing licensed contractors to teach homeowners how to do their own home improvement projects in a hands-on environment.

Then Sunrun posted a job opening for Sales Training Manager it listed training skills, computer experience, sales experience, construction experience, and solar experience as requirements of the job. It was a perfect match! As Sr. Director of Training and Professional Development at Sunrun, Jeff is responsible for all training, from basic ladder safety training to leadership development. Sunrun’s mission is to create a planet run by the sun. Jeff is proud and excited to be part of this inspiring goal.

Jeff lives in Los Gatos, CA, with his wife, Sharon. They have two incredible children, and one exasperating dog.


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Strategies for a Stronger Solar Workforce: Best and Emerging Practices

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