The first class of Marine trainees at Camp Pendleton graduated from the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) solar job training pilot program last Friday. The program is aimed at preparing service members for careers in the solar industry such as solar photovoltaic system installers, sales representatives, and system inspectors. Camp Pendleton is one of three military bases partnering with the DOE’s SunShot Initiative to train 200 transitioning military service members during the pilot period for employment opportunities in the rapidly growing U.S. solar energy industry. Training courses will begin at Fort Carson and Naval Station Norfolk this spring.

This pilot program is enabled by the Department of Defense’s SkillBridge initiative, which allows exiting military personnel to pursue civilian job training, employment skills training, apprenticeships and internships up to six months prior to their separation date. Service members who graduate from the DOE’s solar training program will gain the skills to size and install solar panels, safely connect electricity to the grid, and interpret and comply with local building codes.

The solar industry has long been a leader in hiring military veterans, and today, the industry employs nearly 17,000 veterans, approximately 10% of nearly 174,000 solar jobs nationwide, according to the DOE press release. Five of the largest U.S. solar companies by number of employees—SolarCity, Vivint Solar, Sunrun, SunEdison, and SunPower—have committed to interview military trainees graduating from the solar job training pilot program, a step that will help place qualified trainees in well-paying jobs.

The number of jobs in the solar sector is increasing. At the DOE’s ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit last week, SolarCity Cofounder and CEO Lyndon Rive noted that his company alone has around 9,000 employees and is creating more jobs than other fast-growing startups like Twitter, which also launched in 2006. What’s more, he said, job growth in the solar power industry is not concentrated geographically.

The DOE’s solar energy training pilot program builds on the success of its SunShot Solar Instructor Training Network—a national network of nine regional centers supporting credentialed solar training at more than 400 community colleges in 49 states—which has already trained nearly 1,100 certified solar instructors and provided hands-on training to more than 30,000 students nationwide.

For more on veterans in the power industry, see “Veterans Bring Needed Skills to the Utility Industry.

Gail Reitenbach, PhD, Editor (@GailReit, @POWERmagazine)