College to expand program on solar-panel installation

SKYLINE RESPONDS TO NEED FOR MORE TRAINED WORKERS

Skyline College in San Bruno is renewing a successful solar-installation program for the fall and plans to expand its curriculum in response to the growing alternative-energy market.


The program trains students to become certified solar installers and is funded by a grant of about $450,000 from the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, organizers said.

"It's creating a pipeline for potential employees for the solar industry," said project leader Sandra Wallenstein.

Run in conjunction with the Bay Area Center for International Trade Development, which is based at Skyline, the program covers electrical and photovoltaic theory, practice and trade.

Wallenstein said the program combines classroom and hands-on learning.

"They do install panels during class," Wallenstein said.

The program was launched this past spring and has certified its first 15 installers. Skyline, which is in San Mateo County, will continue the program this fall, Wallenstein said. Organizers will offer a similar course at College of Marin.

Foster City-based SolarCity helped develop the curriculum, said Irfan Shahab, training manager at the solar installation and design company.

"There's a huge demand for us to find people who are qualified to do solar installing," Shahab said.

As an indication of the industry's growth, the number of SolarCity employees has increased by 50 percent since January, said Shahab, adding, "Half of our employees are installers."

An entry-level installer earns about $17 an hour, while a more experienced worker can make up to $22 an hour, said Michael Williamson, dean of science, math and technology at Skyline.

SolarCity officials also hope to work with Skyline "to formalize and create standards in solar education," he said. That ongoing collaboration could expand the curriculum to cover solar design and related business skills.

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