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New solar energy job training program for young people on Waiʻanae Coast

A worker installs solar panels atop a government building in Lakewood, Colo. The industry has added more than 80,000 jobs since 2010, according to The Solar Foundation.
John Moore
Getty Images

A new solar energy certification program is boosting career opportunities for young people living on the Waiʻanae Coast.

Danielle Irwin is the executive director of Makaha Learning Center, a nonprofit that provides career paths for Native Hawaiian students in the construction industry.

Irwin says the accredited program trains students for a career in the solar energy industry. Graduates earn a certificate validating the skills they learned.

She says they’ve also partnered with Waiʻanae High School to provide pathways for non-traditional learners, or those at risk of dropping out.

"I would say that what we do is pretty unique, just because it's not just about the construction education, that's just the pathway. But we focus on aloha, and teaching those soft skills, if you will, as much as we focus on the technical skills," Irwin said.

"I think that we're starting to realize that pushing people into a four-year traditional college is not for everybody, especially when you're looking at a place like the Waiʻanae Coast where only 3% of our graduates are proficient in math, and only 15% are proficient in reading and writing. And it's really hard to be college bound with those types of statistics," Irwin told HPR.

Irwin says with the state’s renewable energy goals and a limited amount of trained personnel in Hawaiʻi’s solar energy industry, there is a real opportunity for graduates to get jobs right away.

This interview aired on The Conversation on July 26, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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