By Kristen Graf, executive director of Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE)
As the solar industry evolves and grows, it is imperative to its long-term success to have a diverse workforce. Having different minds, talents, backgrounds and ideas in the room and at decision-making tables will foster the innovative and creative problem-solving needed for a healthy industry. Unfortunately, as found by The Solar Foundation in its “2017 U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study,” the solar industry isn’t there yet.
Thankfully, Erika Symmonds is working hard with her team and a variety of partners to change that. As the VP of workforce development and service-learning at GRID Alternatives, Erika leads job-training program development and showcases her passion for serving youth, the unemployed and underemployed and formerly incarcerated citizens.
It’s been thrilling to work with Erika as GRID and WRISE partner on the SPI Rising Women Fellowship as we bring a small cohort of recent graduates and trainees from diverse backgrounds to Solar Power International for networking, education, community and, hopefully, job opportunities and a path into the sector. She always offers important insights and a people-focused intentionality in our conversations to ensure the program is valuable to participants and that they’re at the center of our planning.
Erika brings an incredible background to her work. As an instructor with Outward Bound, an AmeriCorps member with Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley and a construction site manager rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, she has always been committed to workforce development, green construction and a broader sense of community. Before making her way to GRID, she co-founded Green City Force, a non-profit that combines service and training to connect young adults living in poverty to opportunities in the green economy.
Opportunities abound in renewable energy. I’m so thankful that collaborators like Erika and the GRID Alternatives team are committed to finding untapped talent in our community and facilitating the connections, tools and skill development it takes to build the diverse workforce we so desperately need.