Southside Virginia Community College congratulated the first graduates of the Utility Solar Panel Installation Technician Program on November 1. The courses are taught at the SVCC Occupational/ Technical Center. Throughout their training students earn the following credentials: Solar System Installer, OSHA 10, CPR/First Aid, and NCCER CORE (Basic Construction).

This fast growing field provides opportunities for several different career options that can be used in various fields. Dr. Keith Harkins, Vice President of Workforce and Continuing Education, says that “there was a recognized need for this kind of training in the Southside Virginia area.” The idea for a solar program came to be about a year ago and with the help of industrial partnerships with developers and contractors such as Dominion Energy, SunTribe Solar, and Strata Solar, the idea became a reality. “Dominion is always looking for ways to invest in renewable energy and they want to provide the students [in this pro- gram] with access to the workforce.” says Dominion’s Communications Specialist, Samantha Moore. Virginia is in the top ten utility solar states and the occupation of solar photovoltaic installer is expected to have the highest percentage change in employment over the next ten years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Six students completed the first class taught by Stuart Taylor. Four of those six were from right here in Mecklenburg county. Chase City residents Craig Scribner, Cordale Hayes, Trey Perry, and Tagijuan Pulliam became interested in the program when they heard about it at a local job fair. They knew that it would be beneficial given the new solar farms that had been added to the community. “We want locals to take advantage of these employment opportunities.” says Dr. Harkins. “We want them to leave the course with the knowledge that they need to grow in a career, not just get a job.” In just a short, two week period the students learned how to install, place, and set the solar panels as well as learning how to use hand tools, basic CPR and First Aid, and safety techniques in accordance to OSHA rules and regulations. Other participants include Maurice Nance of Victoria and Richmond Stokley of Alberta.

SVCC is hoping that this program will continue to grow and eventually lead to supervisor programs becoming available. The low cost certification classes are affordable with in-state tuition being only $564. Scholarships and other funding sources are available to those interested. Classes run Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the OCC Tech Center located at 1041 10th Street within the Fort Pickett Army base in Blackstone. For more information about the pro- gram and its benefits please contact Workforce Career Coach, Courtney Starke.