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How a Community College Helped Start Virginia’s First Solar Installer Training Program

SHINE's 2nd Cohort from November 2019

Community colleges are epicenters for affordable education and workforce development across the country. With over 5.7 million people enrolled in community colleges in the U.S. in 2019, they are often an important career advancement resource for a significant portion of the population.

Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC) takes their career development role to heart with a number of different programs targeting specific industries with viable employment opportunities in their service area. With locations in Alberta, Blackstone, and Keysville, VA, SVCC runs a number of technical training programs from truck driving to welding and machining certifications. SVCC has always kept their finger on the pulse when it comes to sectors with growing job opportunities in their region and their Power Line Worker training program is a prime example of this.

Students on SVCC's training poles used in their Power Line Workers Program

In 2016, a number of electricity cooperatives reached out to SVCC with a pain point. There was going to be a shortage of power line workers in the state. And without power line workers, it would be difficult to build and maintain utility lines, infrastructure that is critical to providing Virginians with quality lives. SVCC responded by launching their Power Line Workers Program that prepares students with skills on rigging, aerial framing, operating utility equipment, and more. To date, dozens of students have graduated and have built successful careers as power line workers.

SVCC’s success with the Power Line Workers Program and experience with preparing students for jobs in the energy sector caught SHINE’s eye.

“After seeing what we were doing with our Power Line Training Program, a few of the founders of SHINE approached our school’s President about doing a similar program for solar,” said Keith Harkins, Vice President of Workforce Development at SVCC. “With how many solar projects are forecasted to be built in Virginia and the opportunity to have those jobs and economic benefits go to local communities, becoming a founding partner of SHINE was an attractive prospect for us.”

Virginia is poised to become one of the East Coast’s next hot solar markets. Several gigawatts of projects are currently in the pipeline and have gotten permits from the Department of Environmental Quality. When these projects begin construction, they will need thousands of solar installers.

“Any training program that has relatively quick, intensive training that leads to entry-level jobs and the opportunity to build a sustainable career can be really impactful for rural areas like Southside Virginia,” Harkins continued. “Southside Virginia used to have a booming textile industry that provided employment opportunities for many, including those that had limited higher education experience. Since that industry has gone away, there has been a gap in opportunities for this area. The 2-week SHINE training program provides students with a streamlined pathway to build a solar career, not just get a job.”

SHINE officially launched in the fall of 2019. Students that come through the program gain certifications in First Aid/CPR, OSHA 10, and NCCER Core along with a SHINE certification with 20+ hours of hands-on solar installation simulation experience. Once students graduate, SHINE helps place students in jobs by setting up interviews with solar developers and construction companies in the area.

SHINE students working on the training lab along with SVCC President Dr. Quentin R. Johnson (pictured center)

“So far the program has been a success. We have had 18 students graduate - a 100% graduation rate and we have several more cohorts scheduled in the coming months.” Harkins said, “There are several large solar projects expected to be built in the area and as the community learns about these projects, interest in the SHINE program is growing. Southside will continue to work with industry to ensure the gap between solar jobs and talent is met and that students are prepared for success on the job.”

SHINE is proud to have Southside Virginia Community College as a founding Board member of SHINE and flagship academic partner for the SHINE initiative. We commend their innovative prowess in the field of workforce development and are excited to continue to have their support.

For more information on SHINE, please visit

If you are interested in signing up for an upcoming SHINE class at Southside, please visit this link.

If you are a solar developer or EPC interested in hiring SHINE students for your project installations, please contact

Southside Virginia Community College has campuses in Keysville and Alberta, Virginia, with an additional facility in Blackstone. The College is dedicated to the belief that everyone should be given an opportunity to acquire an educational foundation that develops and extends their skills and knowledge. The college's goal is to provide diverse instructional programs ranging from developmental studies to associate degree curricula in academic, technical/vocational, lifelong education, and workforce development. Through various activities, to include distance learning, students will also have the opportunity to develop their roles and responsibilities as participants in a changing society.

The Solar Hands-On Instructional Network of Excellence (SHINE), is a public-private partnership dedicated to building innovative solar career pathways in Virginia. SHINE’s mission is to develop a qualified, diverse, equitable, and inclusive solar workforce, equip Virginians with the tools and knowledge to enter the solar sector with a competitive edge, help solar developers and construction companies source qualified and trained talent, and bridge the gap between solar jobs supply and solar jobs demand.

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