By Frank Jossi
A growing demand for clean energy employees led the Minnesota Department of Corrections earlier this year to offer a solar installation course to two classes of inmates prior to their release dates.
Held last spring and summer, 30 men took the 48-hour solar installer training course from instructors working with the Wisconsin-based Midwest Renewable Energy Association. The nonprofit used the same course it offers members of the general public.
While it’s still too soon to tell if the program will succeed in helping inmates find work, its existence is a reflection of Minnesota’s changing energy economy.
When Ruth Stadheim, director of career and technical education for the Corrections Department, saw a few years ago that the state would be requiring utilities to produce 1.5 percent of their electricity from solar by 2020, she figured the market for workers would likely explode.
“It’s a field we know they could get a job in,” she said. “We heard the industry would hire everyone we trained.”
The Solar Foundation confirms that impression, reporting that Minnesota saw 94 percent job growth in installation work from 2016 to 2017, one of highest increases of any state in the country. Solar also seemed to fit other training the prison system offers in construction trades and manufacturing, among other professions, Stadheim said.