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Solar Power World: Innovative training program puts solar jobs in reach for underserved St. Louis residents

World Wide Technololgy's Ryan Chester trains students in solar power technology after he finishes installing data centers with WWT.

Posted by Solar Power World, May 22, 2019:

Combine a corporate donor with a half-dozen eager community college students, expose them to sunlight, and you have a grant-funding program for solar job training. The initiative between the Bank of America and the St. Louis Community College is yielding results just two months after it began.

Students of the inaugural session celebrated the end of an intensive eight-week program at a graduation ceremony last month. Theirs was the first of two sessions that provide full tuition grants, and additional funding could be announced this month.

The bank and the college regularly cooperate to serve the local student population, and in this instance, priority is given to residents of the Promise Zone, a federal designation of certain St. Louis City and County areas with high unemployment, crime and homelessness. More than 193,000 St. Louisans live in the Promise Zone, where the poverty rate is 24%.

“We at Bank of America applaud these programs,’’ said Katie Fischer, senior VP. “We seek out programs that are environmentally focused. When we see students will be doing something that makes an impact, it fits with our ESG [environmental, social and governance] goals.”

The solar funding is an expression of the bank’s commitment to consider environmental, social and governance factors when deploying capital. Guided by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, the Bank of America has made billions of dollars available to solve important problems, among them affordable housing, economic mobility and sustainable growth. The bank committed $125 billion to environmental issues in support of low-carbon, sustainable business activities.

The Bank of America-funded solar curriculum mirrors the program offered through St. Louis Community College’s School of Continuing Education, with one exception: Continuing education students have 14 weeks to master the material, nearly twice as long as the Promise Zone students.

“It’s very intense,” said instructor Ryan Chester, himself a former continuing education solar student. Chester said he pursued the training out of personal interest, and after passing the certification exam in 2013, was immediately hired into the solar industry. When his employer’s company closed, Chester formed his own company and fulfilled stranded contracts for installations throughout St. Louis.

Now a lead technician at World Wide Technology, Chester devotes his days to building data center equipment for the company’s clients and his evenings to solar training.

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