Solar Ready Vets
In the Line of Hire: From the Military to New a Career in Solar
How one Marine veteran built a new civilian life with help from the Solar Ready Vets®Program and Scudder Solar in Marina, CA.
Welcome to the Marines…
He was nervous, but he wasn’t alone… No one on the bus knew what to expect and that nervousness manifested itself in bravado from some; solemn quiet and averted eyes from others. The drill instructor ordered them all off the bus and to place their feet on the legendary yellow footprints where they were welcomed with these words: “You have just taken the first step toward becoming a member of the world’s finest fighting force, the United States Marine Corps.”
A Greener Future for Veterans
Following boot camp, our young men and women are stationed all over the U.S., from Albany to Hawaii, learning new skills and then sometimes traveling to dangerous assignments in other countries. Their time in the military is valuable, but often feels too short. And the transition from military to civilian life forces veterans to carefully consider career options.
After nine-and-a-half years of active duty serving everywhere from Parris Island, South Carolina for boot camp, to Afghanistan in fire support of troops clearing the Sangin Valley, it was Josh Rucker’s time to choose what he was going to do with the rest of his life. Towards the end of his time in the military, a new career path was weighing on his mind and something…whether fate or simply a little luck, kept pushing him towards the solar industry.
“Just from seeing the news and social media and things going on in the world, I knew solar was the future, I just didn’t know it might be mine. My first encounter with solar was probably when we were training in Twenty-Nine Palms, California. One of the officers pulled out a backpack, unzipped it, and it was a solar pack. Then the phones came out and people were able to charge them!” – Josh Rucker
Josh’s father-in-law is Mark Jacobi, who just happens to be a partner (along with Pete Scudder) and general manager at Scudder Solar Electrical Energy Systems based in Marina, CA – one of the top 500 solar contractors in the country according to Solar Power World Magazine. He signed Josh up with SunPower University for some online courses to learn the ins and outs of solar and see if it would be a match. And it was! Josh loved the idea of a career in solar and the thought of bringing his wife and two daughters closer to their family in California after he finished serving, but he also knew he was missing hands on experience with solar. He needed to be in the trenches learning everything about the industry – from the smallest installation details to the most complex trouble-shooting skills – and he needed to utilize every unique skillset he had gained over almost a decade serving his country, and everything in his background that had brought him to this point.
Solar Ready Vets®
The timing couldn’t have been better. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Ready Vets® program was launched as a pilot program in 2014. By the time Josh was ready for a new career, it was a national program, (Solar Training and Education for Professionals – STEP) administered by The Solar Foundation, and Scudder Solar had recently signed up as an employer/partner with the Solar Ready Vets®Program hoping to attract and train the best of the best from veterans flocking to take advantage of what the industry could offer them.
“The course is 45 days and held at 10 military installations across the U.S. We learned math equations for electricity, learned how to read schematics, built switchboards, wired circuit breakers, installed modules, we even learned about marketing and how to interview…and the stars really started to align for me.” – Josh Rucker
Solar Careers Are Soaring
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the best source of information for anyone considering a good career in this country. The BLS predicts a 105% increase in the number of solar power installers through 2026. “Much faster than average,” the BLS demurs. Another way to describe that career growth? Gangbusters huge! Since 2010, solar-related jobs increased 168% and the industry is anticipated to add 36,000 full-time workers every year for the next 5-7 years.
Many veterans will say the hardest part of any military to civilian career transition is probably the challenge of actually leaving the structure of military life and translating those skills (where you are an expert in your field) to a new kind of workforce, as well as all of the learning that goes along with it. There is also the need for many veterans to find something rewarding to work at – something that lets them feel as if they are paying things forward and giving back.
“I wanted a new career path that had promise and to do something good for the environment. Deploying to third world countries and seeing how they live… the horrible conditions, we have to start doing something for our country. At the same time, the solar industry is bringing jobs to our people and that was a big check in the box.” – Josh Rucker
Training for a Career In Solar
Courageous, honorable, disciplined, proud, adaptable, curious, professional…there’s a saying in the military that you are either a soldier or a civilian. All of these attributes that often make up an outstanding serviceman, are also qualities that are transforming veterans into some of the most sought-after candidates for joining the solar industry.
“Military people have a plan A, plan B, plan C and still, a wrench gets thrown in the gears constantly, so you have to adapt and adapt quickly. The hard work ethic, teamwork, integrity, self-awareness, and confidence gives a veteran an edge over ‘average Joe’ civilians.” – Josh Rucker
The solar industry is clearly booming and the need for smart, well-trained workers – from entry-level positions and installation, to engineering and electrical design to sales, management and more – does not look as if it will be slowing down anytime soon. And the Solar Ready Vets® program is fast becoming one of the best answers to this growing need. Placing highly qualified, transitioning military members into an intensive, hands-on learning experience prepares these men and women to forge new, fulfilling paths for their lives, and fills the solar industry with a passionate, fully-committed group of singularly hardworking, exceptionally bright men and women who are familiar idea of with leaving it all on the field.”
A Perfect Pairing
Josh Rucker’s time training in the Solar Ready Vets®Program was spent just outside Ft. Bragg in North Carolina at Fayetteville Tech Community College. Before that, he took more than a year thinking about and preparing for this transition, and he is now trying to settle into his work with Scudder Solar in Marina, along with another Marine veteran at the company.
“I heard over and over again the horror stories of people getting out of the military and then regretting it and begging to get back in. I knew I didn’t want to bethatstory, and I took mental notes all along on what not to do, essentially. I still have worries about returning to civilian life and probably will for a while, but I am happy here…I have my family (my wife and daughters) and I have a good career in solar where I’m learning something new every day which intrigues me.” – Josh Rucker
According to statistics, approximately 250,000 active military personnel (the size of a small city!) leave the military each year and become veterans. Many of those same veterans will face challenges and difficulties with re-integration, and one of the biggest hurdles will be finding a new, fulfilling career in this often messy, civilian world. They seek careers where they will be able to utilize all of the training, skills, and qualities that were valued during their military days. The solar industry – itself at somewhat of a crossroads and transformative moment in this country – may just be the perfect match-up.
“As you move from your military specialty to a civilian career, you learn what works and what doesn’t work,” says Josh Rucker. “Solar energy works, and now veterans are making it work better.”