Five HCC students certified as photovoltaic installers through government grant

By Donald Sparks, HCC Central Communications Director

Jun 28, 2024

Gabe Cuadra (far right), solar instructor, with students.

In 2022, the City of Houston received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor for a solar jobs program to provide career opportunities for residents without college degrees and living in under-resourced and underserved neighborhoods.

The city turned to HCC for help in putting training in place. The college received about $250,000 to cover tuition, fees, tools and exams to train interested students in solar photovoltaic installation skills through next summer. Now, a year after receiving the grant, five graduates have earned their certificates at the HCC South Campus in classes held over 10 weeks.

“Houston and its surrounding areas, with abundant sunlight, have significant potential for solar energy generation,” said George Davis, Continuing Education-Construction Trades director at HCC’s Central College. “Our certificates are designed to equip residents and businesses with the knowledge to effectively harness this renewable energy source.”

As the demand for sustainable energy solutions grows, so does the need for a skilled workforce.

“As a major energy hub, Houston can lead this transition by training professionals through dedicated solar classes,” Davis said.

Gabe Cuadra, a former energy executive, teaches the class to give the students the confidence they will need to install solar systems on their own in a career sector that is growing at about 4.8 % annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median salary for such jobs is about $49,000 per year.

“We provide a strong balance of theory and hands-on application,” Cuadra said. “It is really rewarding to see students who initially tried to memorize concepts, grow to completely understand them when they make the theory happen firsthand.”

New certificate holder, Travell Williams, moved to Houston from Chicago two years ago and heard about HCC’s offerings.

“I was a software engineer in the tech industry, but I knew I was in a career field where layoffs were happening all the time,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of the green energy field because everyone should be concerned about energy independence.”

Williams said he plans on earning more HCC certifications and is taking AutoCAD (computer-aided design) classes so he can learn how to design photovoltaic systems and own his own business.

“I would like to design the actual technical drawings and help people by surveying a home or business site, to find out how much power they could get from solar panels; and what system design would be good for them,” he said. “I now have a skill in an industry that can lead me to entrepreneurship.”

Another new recipient of the certificate, Hetman Hernandez, also has entrepreneurial plans. The Honduran native has been in Houston for 11 years and saw HCC’s quality, low-cost education as path to reaching his career aspirations.

“It is something that I’ve been looking for since arriving in this country,” Hetman said. “HCC has allowed me to level-up in my profession and, hopefully, open more doors for me.”

Hetman believes the Houston market provides him with a landscape where he can get more practice in the industry and become better at his craft.

“I have a chance to be one of the pioneers in this field,” he said. “Right now, there’s not a lot of solar installers here in Houston. My future is bright and, hopefully, I’ll be able to start my own company.”

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