A career change is often a frightening thing to contemplate, maybe especially so when you’re in your 50s. But for Jeff Miller of Columbus, Ohio, age 54 was the perfect time to hop into solar. In his words, he had finally found his people.
Miller’s winding path to solar started in the ’80s while a mechanical engineering student at Purdue University. Not so sure about the engineering thing after graduation, he used his success in extracurriculars to garner a spot on the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) Tour. Miller toured the country for three years, and, on his days off from bowling, took advantage of nearby national parks and found a taste for environmentalism.
“I got to see a lot, got to meet a lot of people, a lot of new friends,” he said.
Upon returning to the “real world” after the tour, Miller used his engineering knowledge to get a job with a commercial printing company before eventually using his prominence in the bowling community to open a bowling pro shop in 2002 in Columbus. Unfortunately, as the 2000s wore on, bowling started trending south.
“Even though I was in a good situation and was able to grow my business to where I liked it, the whole industry in league bowling itself was dropping,” Miller said. “In 2013, that started catching up with me and my sales started going backwards. After a few years of that, I realized that I was going to need a new full-time gig, so I had to start doing some soul-searching.”
A talk with his stepdaughter pushed him to look into renewable energy. Miller was searching online when he came across Solar Energy International, an educational training outfit. He signed up for a free online introduction to renewables course and immediately was hooked.
“I liked it a lot, and I felt like, this just fits everything I’d like to do,” Miller said. He went all-in on a future in solar and signed up for the residential and commercial PV system program track that included a hands-on lab course on the SEI campus in Colorado.
“You picked three systems you wanted to put together and take apart. I picked a pole mount, a ground mount and a roof mount,” Miller said. “The people were great, instructors were great, students were great, even the locals. I was convinced that this was definitely it. We all had a similar shared idea of renewables and doing our part. I told my wife that I found my kind of people. It was magic.”
Miller went right on ahead and got NABCEP certified, took OSHA training and set out looking for a solar job in spring 2018. There weren’t any job postings, but Miller sent out an updated resume to two local solar installation companies and was working on a third when Ecohouse Solar (No. 376 on the 2019 Top Solar Contractors list) replied.
“He called us at a good time and let us know he had already been through a number of solar courses with Solar Energy International and had a mechanical engineering degree,” said Ecohouse founder and president Kevin Eigel. “He was eager to start working in the solar industry and wanted to make a career change. He has a great attitude, and he is gradually learning the details related to residential solar.”
Miller was officially hired as a salesperson, and his life experiences have helped him secure contracts in the few months he’s been on the job.
“I’ve been selling bowling balls for 16 years. It’s not something people need. I could sell them on the most expensive ball or I could see what they want,” he said. “I feel comfortable in the sales realm. My role is to provide the customer with all the relevant information they need to make the right decision.”
Eigel said he’s pleased with Ecohouse’s decision to hire Miller. The company’s other salespeople had some solar knowledge before starting, but Miller had a leg-up with his certificates. And his attitude and work ethic fit in well at Ecohouse.
“It is important for me to hire people whose values are aligned with mine, and I look for that when I am looking for people to work with us,” Eigel said.
Miller said it’s never too late to find your passion and go after it.
“I had a career change at age 54. Don’t be scared, seriously,” he said. “Hopefully this story will inspire someone to get in the PV industry. If it just inspires one person, then it was quite worth the time.”
This story was featured exclusively in our 2019 Top Solar Contractors issue. See the issue and full list of top U.S. solar installers here.