In Fall 2019, Solar Austin, in collaboration with Huston-Tillotson University (HT), was awarded an “Equitable Green Jobs” grant through the City of Austin’s Economic Development Department and offices of innovation, sustainability, and equity. The grant allowed the two organizations to launch and staff the Equitable Clean Energy Jobs (ECEJ) Program through its 9 month pilot phase.
The ECEJ Program was conceived by Solar Austin’s Board of Directors in partnership with HT’s Center for Sustainability and Environmental Justice, who sought to address the lack of racial diversity and gender balance in the growing solar energy energy industry. The goal of the program was to help facilitate entry points for underrepresented students into clean energy jobs and to develop a set of best practices for clean energy companies that want to improve diversity and inclusivity in their recruitment, hiring, and retention of staff.
The pilot leveraged HT’s experience developing structured internship protocols that set students up for success in technical fields, as well as Solar Austin’s industry connections to recruit local clean energy companies that were committed to hiring paid interns in the field. Solar Austin and HT also partnered with Piper Maddox, a renewable energy recruitment firm, to provide professional development resources for participating students, and Proverbs 31 Consulting to guide conservations around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) between host companies and their interns. The program placed six students in paid internships at five regional clean energy companies over the summer of 2020. Due to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, most internship opportunities were converted to remote, work-from-home positions and non-remote positions were carefully screened for adherence to COVID-19 precautions to ensure the safety of the interns.
With summer internships and the City of Austin grant coming to an end, Solar Austin refocused their efforts on improving recruitment channels and mentorship opportunities within Texas’ solar and clean energy industry, while HT focused on facilitating more professional development opportunities for students passionate about environmental sustainability. Solar Austin’s Pathways to Clean Energy Careers program, launched Fall 2020, is built on the best practices and matching structure developed through Solar Austin and HT’s partnership in the Equitable Clean Energy Jobs pilot program.