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Shine Solar Adds School On the Job

5 min read

There’s no shortage of electrical training programs in Arkansas, but none precisely fit the bill for Shine Solar of Rogers, which specializes in rooftop solar arrays.

“We had run into roadblocks trying to help our employees further their careers,” said Christopher Trudo, the company’s president of operations.

Since Shine’s installation workers travel often, schools requiring in-person attendance were impractical. “Their rules were kind of like, nope, it’s class attendance only.”

So with a sturdy $250,000 investment, Shine set up its own electrical school with video and conferencing equipment so employees could attend virtually.

“We researched it and thought maybe we need to just start our own school so we can make sure our guys have an opportunity to get licensed and have a better career path,” Trudo said. “We contacted the state, filed a charter and now have 35 employees enrolled.”

A training room at the company’s headquarters is dedicated to classes. “We have the capability to have Zoom classes for those on the road, and they can pull it up on their computer in their hotel rooms and participate.”

Trudo said Shine is the only solar company in Arkansas with its own electrical school, and perhaps the only one in the country. Shine has about 250 employees, and “a lot of them are licensed electricians.”

All of the students work for the company and about 65% are physically present at any given session, Trudo said. The school opened in October, with the goal of turning all trainees into licensed electricians.

“The state Department of Labor’s standards require that everyone working on a solar install be enrolled in electrical school, be an apprentice or be a licensed electrician. So this is our effort to satisfy the state’s mandates,” said Trudo, who has been with Shine since 2021 and once was a senior construction manager for Walmart Inc.

Shine Solar, led by founding brothers Nick and Caleb Gorden, has installed more than 2,300 projects in Arkansas and four nearby states.

“It has worked out really well for us, because it lets our employees get their on-the-job training hours and their schooling,” Trudo said. “In order to be accepted for testing by the state you have to have OJT hours and schooling, and this satisfies both those requirements. And it’s at no cost to the student. We handle all costs associated with it, about $6,000 per student.”


The classes are taught by Shine electrician Lynn Sweat, assisted by Don Geierman, president of R&D Electrical-Solar Inc. of Rogers.

“We invested about $250,000 just to get this set up, and while working on this, I’ve gotten more involved with the state’s career pathways and apprenticeships program,” Trudo said.

He works with the Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation on its workforce advisory committee, and one goal is to consolidate requirements for solar accreditation, apprenticeships and electrical licensing.

“The state Board of Electrical Examiners doesn’t really want to accept our guys as real electricians, but we do the same work, take the same classes and are enrolled in the same curriculum as they are,” Trudo said.

Under Arkansas requirements an electrical apprentice must be at least 18 and have a high school diploma or GED, a passing algebra grade and pass a drug screening and aptitude test. To become a journeyman electrician, apprentices must accumulate 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and complete 800 hours of classroom time.

Ambrose’s Apprentices

April Ambrose, leader of a new advanced energy apprenticeship initiative funded with a $2 million, four-year grant from the Arkansas Department of Commerce’s Office of Skills Development, said all of Shine’s 35 students are now part of her program. “Shine will continue doing the training, and I’ll be able to do the apprenticeship part, logging their hours, checking in with the mentors to make sure it’s going well,” Ambrose said. “They’re doing a good job at training, but they’re also running a business, and some of that administrative stuff can get lost in the mix.”

Ambrose is working with the AAEF and the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences to offer training and close a skills gap in industries like solar power, sustainability and building management/HVAC control systems.

Executive Director Lauren Waldrip of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association said that her members “are desperate for local talent to address their expanding labor needs.” She thanked the OSD for the grant money, which came through in October. The AAEA will act as a middleman, helping companies obtain apprentices.

Ambrose, a former chair of the Little Rock Sustainability Commission and business development manager for Entegrity Partners of Little Rock, has been on a steep learning curve since becoming the program’s director of workforce development in January.

“You know, it’s really going slower than I imagined,” she confided this month. “I waltzed up here thinking I’d have my yearly goal of 50 apprentices by February.”

But before adding Shine’s 35 enrollees, she had no apprentices, she said.

Interpretation of relevant codes was one problem, and it took some time to learn the issues in Arkansas and the practices used in other states.

Trouble With Inspectors

“We have a lot of city inspectors who are telling residential solar companies that everybody on the roof has to be an electrician, and in the case of ground-mount arrays, even the posthole diggers have to be electricians,” she said. Solar companies want a more reasonable interpretation.

Ambrose’s team has drafted a letter to take to the Board of Electrical Examiners seeking an interpretation similar to what governs jobs in Minnesota, “one that makes a clear line between what an electrician needs to do and what other workers need to do. The racking installed on a roof has to be bonded and grounded, but our line is that it doesn’t need to be bonded and grounded until there are electrical components attached to it.” Apprentice installers could do the early work, she said.

Ambrose said the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana has a solar training program and an on-campus solar laboratory coming online this fall. The hands-on solar learning lab will be integrated into a new accreditation, a certificate of proficiency in solar energy technology.

“It’s going to be a virtual course, and if students are registered apprentices, they will waive the lab component, so they don’t actually have to be on campus,” said Ambrose. “That’s going to be very attractive to companies all over the state.”

She is also working with the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Tech on apprenticeship programs, as well as Entegrity. “I’ll call it a green building specialist, and it will train people in their sustainability department … in a variety of different rating systems for buildings, like LEED certification and WELL certification.”

WELL is a performance-based system to measure, certify and monitor “features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind,” according to the International WELL Building Institute.

The apprenticeship program will be able to pay for third-party education, and will also pay exam fees for apprentices gaining those accreditations. “And when that gets going, that will be one of the first in the country to be organized in that way.”

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