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New Crop of OneEnergy Scholars Looks to Make a Net Impact


Job creation across the U.S. solar energy sector has been impressive. 2014 was the second year running in which solar energy sector job growth came in near or above 20 percent, according to the Solar Foundation's National Solar Jobs Census 2014.

Interest in working and building careers in the U.S. solar, renewable energy and clean tech fields is broad and deep, particularly among young adults and college students. Securing employment and forging a career path is hindered by obstacles, however, including a lack of specialized, up-to-date, accessible and affordable training.

That's a divide “mission-driven” solar and clean energy project developer OneEnergy Renewables, in partnership with Net Impact, aims to bridge with its OneEnergy Scholars program. Providing one-to-one mentorship to a small, chosen group of promising university students – primarily MBA candidates – over the course of one year, the OneEnergy Scholars program “is designed to accelerate the careers of high potential individuals that have demonstrated passion and commitment in the renewable energy field,” the company explains on its website.

Bridging the clean energy education divide

On Jan. 29, OneEnergy Renewables announced it had selected “six young leaders who promise to advance the clean energy sector in the coming years,” as its 2015 class of OneEnergy Scholars. Each of the six will receive one-to-one mentorship from OneEnergy executives as well as personalized career counseling, internship opportunities and professional networking prospects.
"The clean energy industry is growing at a remarkable rate, and we’re looking to the next generation of inspired professionals to shape and sustain the future expansion of this sector,” OneEnergy Renewables CEO Bryce Smith was quoted in a company press release.

"Just as today’s leaders were influenced by the guidance of their own mentors, it is our duty and our privilege to extend that same support to our 2015 OneEnergy Scholars. We can only imagine what this group of driven young people will achieve through hard work and ingenuity, and we look forward to watching their careers blossom.”

Partner Net Impact, which works to engage over 60,000 students and professionals in efforts to address critical social and environmental needs, plays a crucial role in the program, providing outreach, marketing and selection of OneEnergy Scholars' program applicants. “Many Net Impact students are eager to contribute to the clean energy economy through their professional pursuits,” Net Impact CEO Liz Maw said.

“The OneEnergy Scholars Program offers a unique avenue to enrich their understanding of renewable energy markets and build critical skills that will serve them well on their path to careers with sustainable impact.”

U.S. solar and job growth

Job growth in the U.S. solar energy sector has increased at nearly 20-times growth for the U.S. economy overall, Solar Foundation highlighted in the fifth of its groundbreaking series of annual reports. “Massive growth in demand for solar energy systems over the last decade” fuels green job creation in the renewable energy market segment, Solar Foundation points out. More than 7,200 megawatts of solar energy capacity was installed in the U.S. in 2014, contributing significantly to job creation across the industry value chain.

Totaling nearly 174,000 jobs across the U.S. states in 2014, the Solar Foundation found that over the past five years solar sector employment has grown 86 percent, employing more than 80,000 new workers. This type of performance offers strong testament of the economic, as well as environmental and broader social, benefits government support for solar and “green” economic development can bring about.

As impressive as job creation and growth in the U.S. solar sector has been, employment opportunities could be improved upon if U.S. students were afforded access to specialized, affordable and more accessible training. The OneEnergy Scholars program grew out of the “mission-driven” educational outreach the company's co-founders began while working for the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF), CEO Bryce Smith told 3p in an interview.

While working for BEF, Smith and OneEnergy co-founder Bill Eddie created the “Solar 4R Schools” program.  “We reached thousands of school kids through the program,” Smith explained. “With this [OneEnergy Scholars] we're striving to work with the most promising grad students we can find and work with them on a much more intimate level.”

Realizing job creation potential

Realizing the great job creation potential associated with renewable energy, clean tech and sustainable development hinges on young Americans acquiring the education and skills required. As Net Impact points out: “Seven of the 10 occupations projected to grow most rapidly over the next decade are in science, technology and engineering fields, and yet in 2013 the U.S. was ranked 49th out of 148 countries for quality of science and math education.
“Unfortunately, there is a conspicuous illiteracy around STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and energy topics in our nation’s schools. As of 2010, less than one-third of U.S. eighth graders show proficiency in mathematics and science.”

Smith expanded on this topic during his interview with 3p. He related it directly to aims of the OneEnergy Scholar's program and its context within a U.S. energy market that's going through its first fundamental restructuring since the dawn of the Electrical Age.
“We have a very old traditional industry and then this emerging renewable energy sector. They are combining and colliding, and a new generation of students see opportunities to participate, particularly in the renewable energy sector. But they are going to need a whole set of specific, practical knowledge and skills in order to participate effectively.

“These subjects aren't dealt with effectively in business schools. We find that even in the utilities many folks aren't very knowledgeable, particularly when you add fixed price renewables into the discussion.

Renewables introduce many new variables to what has been a fossil fuel-driven U.S. energy mix. The fossil fuel industry hasn't thought about or dealt with them to any great degree, but there are a lot of students who should and need to acquire this knowledge in order to contribute positively and constructively to the conversation.”

*Image credits: 1) OneEnergy; 2) Solar 4R Schools; 3) The Solar Foundation-SEIA
Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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