by Francis Hodsoll, Jon Hillis and Melody S. Gee

Melody S. Gee is a business and technical writer in St. Louis, MO.

SHINE: Partnerships that Bridge Gaps

The Solar Hands-On Instructional Network of Excellence (SHINE), is a public-private partnership dedicated to building innovative solar career pathways in Virginia. SHINE’s mission is to develop a qualified, diverse, equitable, and inclusive solar workforce, equip Virginians with the tools and knowledge to enter the solar sector, help solar developers and construction companies source qualified and trained talent, and bridge the gap between solar jobs supply and solar jobs demand.

The story of how SHINE was created began in 2018. In a recent interview with SHINE, SolUnesco President Jon Hillis described the impetus behind the program. There was a clear lack, Jon recalls, of a “trained workforce to fill the jobs generated by solar these utility scale solar projects. That’s why many of the early solar jobs went to out-of-state companies and non-local workers. Francis [Hodsoll] and I thought ‘We have to do something about this.’”

Indeed, while solar job growth has slowed nationally, a recent National Solar Job Census shows that solar jobs are steadily expanding in Virginia, with 9% growth in 2018. Growth in the areas of installation and project development has been even more rapid, as has the need for energy storage.

According to a report by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), between 2016 and 2018, Virginia leapt in rankings from 29th to 17th for states with installed solar capacity. The significant drop in prices has attracted government and private entities to invest in solar. Virginia is leading in development of major data centers for companies that want clean, low cost energy.

Recognizing all these industry’s needs in 2018, SolUnesco began forging a partnership between Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC) and Virginia’s Solar Energy Association (MDV-SEIA) to offer training job preparation and industry certification and start filling Virginia’s solar jobs with trained and skilled professionals. Initially called the Virginia Solar Workforce Initiative, the program now known as SHINE counts over 20 partners, a diverse board of directors, a leadership council, and an ambassador’s circle.

Francis Hodsoll created the initial concept behind SHINE and his business partner Jon Hillis now provides SolUnesco’ s leadership with his role on the Board.  The training program recently enrolled its first cohort, beginning classes this October. Not only does the curriculum cover the latest in solar industry practices and technology, but it develops students’ communication and interviewing skills. Now, SHINE is forming industry partnerships to bring together skilled program graduates and developers who are ready to hire.

Today SHINE is run by the Solar Research Institute, a nonprofit institute based in Washington, DC dedicated to research, education, and public service activities in solar energy. In his own interview with SHINE, SolUnesco CEO Francis Hodsoll reflected, “We are proud to be involved as a founding member. Putting communities and their interests first is a core value of our company. SHINE is a very unique workforce development program designed to create meaningful change in our home state. There is no other program like it. Not only does it maximize local jobs and economic benefits, but SHINE helps developers and construction firms gain access to qualified talent and increase solar project safety. We hope SHINE serves as a model for other states to replicate.”