My name is Lloyd Lee and I am the Founder and CEO of NATiVE Solar. We recently published a blog titled “Diversity and Inclusion in the Solar Workforce” and I wanted to provide some additional background and personal perspective on this topic. I’d like to thank the handful of negative responders who inspired me to write this follow up and in doing so, reminded myself why this topic is so important to our company and its culture.
Prior to starting NATiVE Solar, I spent 15 years in the semiconductor industry in various engineering and business development roles. In the mid-late 90’s, the semiconductor industry was primarily a white male industry – particularly in positions of management and senior engineering. In the early 2000s, the company I worked for placed a focus on creating a more diverse workforce. This wasn’t done by any kind of affirmative action legislation or settling for less qualified personnel for the sake of diversity, but by making a concerted effort to seek out a wider talent pool. The result was a talented workforce with broader perspectives that yielded innovation within a company culture of equality.
A couple of the surprising responses we received to our last blog alluded to us being on some kind of crusade for the sake of crusading. As a company that’s now in its 15th year of providing solar to Texans, we know our job well and are focused on doing more of it which requires talented personnel. Our business is growing which means we are constantly hiring. The pandemic caused us to reevaluate how we recruit and to think longer term in regards to investing in the solar workforce. If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that we like to share what we do and oftentimes how and why we do it. This subject is no different.
Yes, we feel good about donating materials and time to programs like the Del Valle ISD solar lab that teaches high school students a skilled trade. We’re also optimistic that it will result in more young folks entering the workforce with some basic technical skills who are ready to start their solar careers. We’re not only marketing our company to these students, we’re marketing an industry. Many of these students have no intentions of going on to college after they graduate from high school. We’re providing them exposure to solar and the confidence to even apply for a job.
Feeling comfortable applying for a job is a common theme of many of the programs we’re engaged in to grow our team. The commonly used terms these days are “diversity” and “inclusion” but as it relates to us and what we do, I think of it as providing exposure and a level of confidence and understanding that all are welcome. Our participation in Solar Austin’s Pathways to Clean Energy Careers isn’t about meeting some kind of internal quota for hiring more women or people of certain ethnicities. It’s about the fundamental need for more team members and to make sure that all demographics feel welcome enough to talk to us about applying for a job. Solar is still a relatively obscure industry and these programs help to provide more exposure and insight into what it looks like to enter our industry.
The same goes for our involvement in the Solar Ready Veterans program. Although we appreciate the sacrifice our veterans have made, we see this program as another recruiting program to provide exposure to our industry. We’ve witnessed first hand that vets have skill sets that overlap nicely with solar tasks and see this program as a way to connect those completing their military service with companies that want to welcome them with open arms.
Our mission is to help Texans generate their own clean energy from the sun and this requires talented people to make that happen. The old way of expanding our team was simply to post a job listing and wait to see who applies. For several years this resulted primarily in applicants who had solar experience through working for various solar companies in the area. Our experience has taught us that our best and longest lasting team members came from different backgrounds. We were able to train them to perform their jobs, resulting in a better fit into our team and company culture. Our involvement in the programs mentioned and several others is to take a more proactive approach toward following what has resulted in some of the strongest members of our team.
Come one, come all. We need help and would love to talk to anyone interested in starting or continuing a career in the fastest growing sector of the energy industry! We also invite you to join the conversation of diversity and inclusion in the workforce. Please leave your comment at the bottom of the page.