Solar Follows Suit

By Michelle Rafter

Jul. 30, 2008

The public-private partnerships that helped speed up wind energy technician training are being adopted by other Pacific Northwest sustainable energy companies, most notably by solar panel manufacturers moving into the area.

SolarWorld, a leading German manufacturer of solar panels, recently teamed with Portland Community College in Oregon to train technicians who will work at a fabrication plant the company is renovating in the Portland suburb of Hillsboro. SolarWorld expects to have 350 employees working at the plant by the end of 2008, and 2,000 when it’s 100 percent up and running by 2011 or 2012. Of those, 1,600 will be production or maintenance technicians, says Jim Talty, a SolarWorld HR training coordinator.

To make sure SolarWorld gets the technicians it needs, the company is working with Portland Community College’s nearby Rock Creek campus on a two-year solar voltaic manufacturing training program that starts this fall. A third of the 75 spots are already taken, says Dorina Cornea, microelectronics and solar technology department chair at PCC Rock Creek. This summer, the college also started offering an eight-week fast-track certification course that attracted 24 students. Upon finishing the course, these students can expect to start earning $14 to $16 an hour, Cornea says.

SolarWorld doesn’t guarantee jobs for graduates; the chances are good, “but they have to go through the interview process like everyone else,” Talty says.

Although SolarWorld’s new facility is located in the heart of Portland’s Silicon Forest high-tech corridor, home to Intel and other semiconductor manufacturing companies, the company has had little trouble attracting recruits.

Renewable energy is the new kid on the block, and people in the energy-conscious Pacific Northwest are jumping at the chance to work for a green business, Talty says. Add a competitive compensation package that includes up to four weeks of vacation and employee discounts on solar panels, and it’s no wonder SolarWorld has already collected 4,000 résumés. “They’re lined up around the block” for all kinds of positions, Talty says.

Michelle Rafter is a Workforce contributing editor.

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