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Navy vet trains for solar energy career in just five weeks

Weston Craig found a new career after one phone call to Tidewater Community College.

After being laid off from Norfolk Naval Shipyard two years ago, the married father of two knew he needed to retrain quickly for another opportunity.

“I didn’t have time for a long program,” Craig said. “I called TCC and asked when the next certificate program was starting. It was Solar Ready Vets and literally two days later, I was in the program,” Craig said.

Solar Ready Vets, a U.S. Department of Energy program in partnership with Naval Station Norfolk and TCC, offers transitioning military the chance to train for new careers in the burgeoning solar industry. The entire program can be completed in just five weeks.

The U.S. solar industry now employs more than 174,000 highly-trained professionals nationwide and is poised to hire up to 35,000 additional full time professionals each year.

Students in a renewal energy technologies class work on installing solar arrays in the outdoor laboratory on TCC’s Chesapeake Campus.

Before completing program, Craig accepted an offer to work as a maintenance technician for Strata Solar, an independent contractor for Dominion Energy. For the last two years, he has maintained and troubleshot the industrial arrays in nine areas, including the Oceana Solar Farm in Virginia Beach.

TCC is one of seven community colleges in Virginia providing technical training and know-how for students pursuing work in the emerging solar, wind and geothermal industries. Students enrolled in Solar Ready Vets take classes on the Chesapeake Campus under the direction of Professor Eric Beaver, program head for Mechatronics.

“I definitely would not have gotten the job without the TCC program and my teacher Mr. Beaver. He made the material interesting and is the real reason for my success,” Craig said.

Last month, Craig was promoted to a new position within the company. As a regional manager, he now leads a team of five in maintaining the newly constructed Colonial Trail site in Surry County, the largest solar energy plant on the East Coast.

“I’m grateful for the good, steady work I’ve found in this field. I enjoy having a list of things to fix and going out there to get it done,” he said.

Craig encourages those who enjoy working with their hands with an interest in electrical work to consider renewable energies fields.

“The sky is the limit and now is the time,” Craig said.

The Dominion Foundation began supporting all of TCC’s renewable energies fields with a grant in 2010. The funding enabled the college to build and install the solar technology on top of the George B. Pass Building on the Chesapeake Campus. Previous grants in 2013 and 2016 helped build the curriculum for alternative energy education.

For more information about Solar Ready Vets, email Christopher Blow at The next cohort begins Feb. 10.