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Green construction and solar installation for both photovoltaic and hot water needs are “hot” commodities in today’s workforce. Funded by the Department of Labor, YouthBuild programs across the country are training young people as entry-level solar installers, ready for registered apprenticeships or full-time work.

The McLean County YouthBuild in Bloomington, Illinois has engaged in green building techniques for several years, earning LEED and Energy Star status for the homes it builds for local low-income families. Last year, Chief Operating Officer and LEED certified construction director Brian Fitzgerald launched a new initiative – adding solar water heating units to each of six new homes under construction.

“We installed the solar hot water systems on six homes,” said Fitzgerald. “It was a great experience.” Working with professional plumbers and solar installers, YouthBuild students helped install, pipe and wire the systems, composed of two flat panel closed-loop glycol systems.

Students learned alongside the professionals, due to the relatively new technology. “Plumbers know plumbing, but not solar. And the solar installer didn’t know plumbing – so we all figured it out,” said Fitzgerald.

Bloomington families moved in this month, and have just started using the utilities. “We’ll measure for a while to determine the energy savings,” said Fitzgerald. For an estimated cost of $8,000 - $9,000 per house, the systems will provide all hot water needs.

“In the next generation,” promised Fitzgerald, “we’ll use the solar hot water to help heat the whole house through radiant floor heating, or pre-heating forced air systems.” McLean County YouthBuild plans to build another six houses using solar water heating beginning this fall. (

RichmondWORKS YouthBuild in Richmond CA has been training its students in solar photovoltaic installation and electrical skills for several years, meeting the need for solar electricity in the booming California market. Executive Director Sal Vaca described a strong partnership with local trades unions, the city, a solar manufacturing firm and community groups to identify homes for solar installations, train students, and secure solar panel supplies for low-income homes.

After completing basic construction skills training, YouthBuild students engage in another 10 weeks of construction apprenticeship and solar installation concentrated training, capped by two days of “lab” installation and two days of live panel installation. The experience has lead to several dozen students getting jobs in local solar companies upon graduation, with more on the job training and average wages of $18.33 per hour. (

The next phase for RichmondWORKS is to incorporate several more weeks of advanced training for students who wish to earn the NAPCEP entry level solar installer certification.
Many other YouthBuilds are offering solar training experiences to their students. Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, youth attending ARCH in Washington, DC designed and assembled “solar backpacks” – small, solar cell covered daypacks capable of charging 6-12 Volt batteries. The young people donated the backpacks to Haitian medical and education organizations for use in providing emergency power. (

Many other programs, including Casa Verde Builders of AmericanYouthWORKS in Austin, TX, combine Energy Star home efficiency with solar photovoltaic systems to deliver nearly net-zero energy costs to low-income families in their communities. (

These cutting edge green training programs are building a strong young workforce steeped in environmental awareness and high-demand skills.

RichmondWORKS YouthBuild students learn solar installation in the training lab during a 10-week additional solar/electrical course.










RichmondWORKS students complete a live installation to serve a low-income family in their community. Many California companies need residential solar installers.

The Community of Practice will be looking at the Solar Energy Industry over the next few weeks. The first installment of this series is a brief scan of the solar industry, federal policies and programs, and key organizations.

Green Profile: Solar Energy Industry