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Preparing for a greener future: DWD grant recipient trains workers for careers in renewable energy

April 22, 2021

People working on solar panels
Photo courtesy: MREA

A massive 300 mega-watt solar farm in Iowa County, a 200 mega-watt installation in Kenosha County, a pair of new farms in Manitowoc County—in the past year, a half-dozen large scale solar projects have cropped up across the state according to Renew Wisconsin. There is no question the solar industry is booming, and that means our state's workers need to be ready.

"As the rapid deployment of solar escalates in the state, there will be even more need for workers," said Ellen Barlas, solar workforce manager for the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA). "Good training provides potential employees with the background they need to work safely and efficiently."

Based in Portage County, MREA is a non-profit that works with partners around the Midwest to expand renewable energy adoption through innovative programs, renewable energy training, and educational events. In March, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) awarded MREA a $73,810 grant through its Wisconsin Fast Forward program to work with solar industry partners and provide hands-on training to 79 unemployed trainees and 15 incumbent workers. Entry-level participants will learn basic solar photovoltaics skills and job safety, and they'll get the opportunity to test for industry recognized certifications. Training for incumbent employees will provide advanced technical skills and give them the required course hours toward advanced industry certifications.

"This will give people the opportunity to enter the solar industry at a time when the industry is growing rapidly, and there are many well-paying jobs with potential for advancement," said Barlas. "In addition, many incumbent employees need training that their employers are not equipped to provide, so the MREA will be providing much-needed resources to help these individuals grow their knowledge, which will give them the opportunity for career advancement."

It's this kind of reskilling and retraining that takes priority in Gov. Tony Evers' Badger Bounceback budget, which invests $1 million over the next two years in green jobs grants through DWD's Wisconsin Fast Forward (WFF) program.

"Preparing workers for career advancement or new careers entirely has always been a priority for DWD," said DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek. "As our economy advances and our energy sources are diversified, we will need workers to fill well-paying green industry jobs."

Along with a $10-million-bump to WFF, Evers' budget targets $500,000 in DWD workforce training grants for jobs that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve our natural resources. The budget directive expands opportunities like the ones MREA trainees will receive this summer.

"Economic recovery and strategies to get people back to work are now more important than ever," Pechacek said. "DWD is excited to support training and placement efforts through Gov. Evers' Wisconsin Fast Forward Green Energy worker training directive."

Find more information about DWD's Wisconsin Fast Forward program at