In a sunlit office building in northwest Austin, Texas, former Marine Corps electro-optical technician Logan Razinski greets his boss, a one-time sailor who maintained naval nuclear reactors. The day’s work ahead between the two soldiers won’t involve military operations, however. Both are now employees for SunPower, a solar energy company.
Razinski, a lance corporal (not “one of those movie star ranks”) who was previously stationed at Camp Pendleton near San Diego, found the job through a Department of Energy-sponsored program, Solar Ready Vets (SRV), which prepares former service members to work in the solar energy industry. Living in California, where utilities will get one-third of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, Razinski saw the field “growing like wildfire” and joined SRV’s first cohort. After receiving four weeks of intensive training (since expanded to six) covering photovoltaic panel installation, electrical grids and local building codes, Razinski interviewed and landed a job with SunPower, where he now remotely controls utility-scale arrays.
“There is still an alarming mix of veterans, who, as soon as they get out, look for work or try the college thing, and, for some reason, that doesn’t work out. Next thing, you know, they’re living on the street,“ Razinski says. Nationwide, in 2014, close to 50,000 vets lacked housing, and 573,000 lacked jobs. With SRV, “I went from somebody who was in the Marine Corps to being a far cry from the poverty line,” he adds.
So far, Solar Ready Vets has trained nearly 200 soldiers at five pilot bases: Camp Pendleton, Hill Air Force Base in Utah, Fort Carson in Colorado, Fort Drum in New York and Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.
While the connection between military service and solar power might seem tenuous, Razinski says it’s about transitioning workers with proven leadership skills into industries that need talent now. As the solar industry adds new jobs 12 times faster than the overall economy, America’s veterans are a natural fit for various positions. “In an industry that’s growing as rapidly as the solar industry, you need somebody to actually be promotable. You need somebody who’s going to understand the magnitude of the situation and say, ‘Holy cow, this is growing faster than anybody anticipated,’” he says.
“This is definitely a path that I believe in,” Razinski adds. “I see it going nowhere but up.”