LA Unified expands solar power training program

Amid the gloomy economy, solar panel installation offers an occupational bright spot. L.A. Unified School District officials say they're expanding an adult training program to meet the need. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Room 130, in the basement of the East Los Angeles Skills Center, is abuzz with tool-wielding adults inching their way to well-paid jobs. Deirdre Hawkins first learned solar panel installation eight years ago.

Deirdre Hawkins: I do solar design. The area that I was weakest in was batteries and battery technology, so I heard about this school.

Guzman-Lopez: Most of the students are men in their early 30s with construction experience. Hawkins is an exception here. So is Billie Jo West. Her jobs have included...

Billie Jo West: ...Caretaking, house cleaning, drive moms and babies, retired phone operator of 28 years.

Guzman-Lopez: All will learn basic electrical work, state regulations, and how to climb on a roof and install solar panels. These days, says instructor Brian Hurd, this course and national certification will likely help these students land jobs that can pay $25 an hour.

Brian Hurd: They're hiring students out of our program before they graduate. It happens all the time. In fact they called last week and hired five guys.

Guzman-Lopez: Hurd says that once the economy picks up, the demand for solar panel installers will shoot through the roof. L.A. Unified's $20 billion school construction program is helping. Facilities chief Guy Mehula says the school district's likely to spend $350 million on a solar energy effort in the next three years.

Guy Mehula: Every dollar we save on the energy spent on utility is a dollar back into the classroom.

Guzman-Lopez: If demand grows as expected, school district officials say, they'll offer more training at four other locations.