With one in 78 new American jobs now connected tosolar the industry is growing 20 times faster than the overall U.S. economy.
According to the Solar Foundation's solar census, the U.S. solar industry will likely add more than 35,000 jobs this year, bringing the nationwide employment total well past 200,000 people.
That kind of growth doesn't come without challenges. Two-thirds of companies surveyed by the Solar Foundation in 2014 reported that it is "somewhat difficult" to hire qualified workers. Finding the installers, salespeople, designers and managers to fill those positions means reaching deeper into the talent pool of women, minorities and veterans across the country who are underrepresented in the broader workforce.
Veterans are an increasingly attractive target for solar companies looking for employees to fill their fast-growing ranks. In a recent report documenting the trend, the Solar Foundation found that veterans make up 9.2 percent of workers in the industry -- exceeding 7.2 percent across the entire U.S. economy.
"They're very employable and trainable. They bring leadership skills, problem-solving skills and technical skills," said Anna Bautista, the VP of workforce development at GRID Alternatives.
GRID is a nonprofit focused exclusively on expanding the benefits of solar to the underserved through on-site training. In partnership with Wells Fargo, the organization is now ramping up a program, called Troops to Solar, targeted at training 1,000 veterans over the next three years. It was launched on Tuesday during a four-part solar installation on the homes of wounded veterans in San Diego.
Many of the solar systems used for training will be deployed on the houses of veterans, including a large number of Native American vet. (More Native Americans serve in the U.S. military on a per-capita basis than any ethnic group.)
This program fits into a broader goal set by the Solar Energy Industries Association, which wants to see 50,000 veterans employed in the industry by 2020.
"It's an ambitious goal for sure," said Bautista. "But there's some federal investment out there across different agencies that is having an impact."
In 2014, the Department of Energy announced its Solar Ready Vets program to help train and certify veterans for manufacturing, installation, inspection and sales jobs in the industry. After the pilot brought in 20 or more job offers for each trainee, President Obama decided to increase funding and scale the initiative to 10 bases around the country.
Watch how the Solar Ready Vets program works: