Green Jobs and Solving Vet Unemployment

soldier at solar panels

Profile of Namaste Solar

Denver-based Namaste Solar is a residential and commercial solar services company that offers a range of engineering, procurement and construction services. When Namaste needed to hire workers for several new contracts, it examined the current workforce for potential staff. The company quickly found that there was a large unemployed veteran population seeking civilian work or retraining opportunities – and made a decision to collaborate with Veterans Green Jobs and the Veterans Green Force program. Veterans Green Force matches veterans looking for work with green sector employers and training providers that want to hire veterans.

Namaste committed to partner with veterans who have transferable skills and some technical training, and are seeking employment in the solar field. It discovered that hiring veterans offers many advantages.

Benny Faraone, a Namaste field supervisor, says that "veterans are a good fit for the solar industry," citing technical skills, discipline, level of commitment and strong work ethic. He also feels a sense of obligation in making sure veterans get hired. "We have a responsibility toward the veteran cause. In the U.S. there is a large veteran population returning from the wars; we need to solve the unemployment issue and also find ways to develop the green economy."

Through the Veterans Green Force program, Namaste hired Dan Conerd, a U.S. Army veteran, on a contract installing solar panels at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

Conerd impressed Faraone with his technical, construction and management background – combined with strong personal qualities including discipline, leadership, and attention to detail and safety. "We're not hiring someone who hasn't been through a regimen," says Faraone. "It's not an easy job, and we have been able to lean heavily on Dan and put him in positions of responsibility. He has a strong, diverse skill set that he may not even realize."

For Namaste, technical experience is essential for a variety of design, sales and field roles. Faraone emphasizes the importance of transferable skills in all of these roles. "In the military, you pick a path that's technical, and you specialize in it – whether it's in electrical, construction or communications fields. Service members are trained in those areas, and can now put them to direct use in a different industry."

Management skills are equally important when it comes to hiring. "Some projects have crews up to 20 people. So when you're thinking about order and organization and team leadership, it's critical to develop those skill sets in your staff, or hire someone who already has them." Conerd fit the bill. "We identified Dan's management abilities in the interview process," Faraone says.

A Path to Renewable Energy

When Dan Conerd graduated from his Iowa high school, he knew two things: he wanted to join the military, and he wanted to learn a trade skill. He fulfilled both of these goals serving in the U.S. Army for eight years, including a one-year tour in Mosul, Iraq. As a heavy construction operator and an M249 gunner, Conerd gained valuable experience in machinery and construction while honing his leadership abilities.

For Conerd, that experience also cemented the importance of having a plan, and sticking to it. "I've always had goals. I know where I want to be, and how I need to get there. I always have a plan A, B and C," Conerd says. His technique is paying off, since he has now been hired by Namaste and sees future growth opportunities there.

Conerd's path to this opportunity started through a consultation with Veterans Green Jobs, which recommended Conerd take advantage of his GI Bill and get trained in a field that interested him. With an eye toward a career in the solar industry, he enrolled in Red Rocks Community College's renewable energy program, where he is working toward an associate's degree in solar photovoltaics (PV).

Veterans Green Jobs also urged him to submit his resume for an entry level opening at Namaste Solar. Wanting to get his foot in the door, he applied – and was hired as a PV installer.

"There are lots of opportunities in the solar industry, and solar is always changing and improving. That's interesting to me. And there are lots of avenues to experience, from commercial to residential, and basic installation to electrical," he says. He adds, "I'd like to get into the solar design field, where I can be on site in the field with a crew of my own."

Prior to joining Namaste, Conerd had a good job as an assistant manager in retail. But he was drawn to sustainable opportunities that had larger implications for the environment and the economy. Conerd says the match with Namaste works well for him: "I believe that solar technology – and renewable energy in general – helps us get away from consumption of gas and oil. I may not be fighting wars anymore, but I'm still helping the country. It's important to me and other veterans."

In addition to the long-term appeal of solar as a growing job sector, this work attracted Conerd because he loves being outside, working with his hands, and working with "like-minded people who get excited about the advancements of solar technology and want to see it succeed."

Now that Conerd has an entry into solar, he's set on making an impression by learning everything he can and working his way up. He wants other veterans to see their own value and skills so they can achieve their dreams, too.   "I hope veterans always want to strive for more, and never settle. They need to keep their heads up, and remember that they are capable of doing more."

More information: Veterans Green Jobs

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