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SolarWorld sees the light with PCC

Story by James Hill. Photos courtesy of SolarWorld AG

SolarWorldAs the largest photovoltaic manufacturer in the United States, SolarWorld AG is beginning to ramp up its new 480,000-square-foot production plant in Hillsboro and at the same time is heating up a partnership with Portland Community College.

SolarWorld is refurbishing a site for an integrated solar silicon wafer and solar cell production facility, which would become the largest solar factory on the American continent. This new plant means that the German-based company has a strong need for skilled, on-the-job trainers within their workforce and a pipeline to provide qualified new technicians.

Jim Talty, training manager for SolarWorld in Hillsboro, is contracting with the college’s Customized & Workplace Training division to provide a Train-the-Trainer program for their maintenance technicians. The classes, held at the Washington County Workforce Training Center last winter, consisted of training 18 SolarWorld technicians on how to be an effective trainer; learning the company’s technical training philosophy; how to do on-the-job-peer training; and understanding adult learning styles.

“It has enabled these folks to know how to be a trainer and given them all of the basic skills and fundamentals. This is great training for new employees,” Talty said.

These eight hour sessions stretched over three days and featured classes for brand new employees and skilled trainers within the company looking for a refresher. The Train-the-Trainer program also is being adopted at SolarWorld’s Vancouver, Wash., site.

“They did a fantastic job,” Talty said of PCC. “It was exactly what we needed. It prepared peer trainers to train new hires on the specs and processes of our manufacturing floor, such as running equipment, safety use and quality. The biggest point made during the three days was how to provide feedback to meet training and learning objectives.”

SolarWorld It is estimated that the Hillsboro SolarWorld plant will start production by the end of 2008. The plant will grow silicon crystals and cut them into wafers, then chemically treat them to create solar cells. These are sent to SolarWorld’s Camarillo, Calif., facility and laminated into the photovoltaic modules typically seen on rooftops.

“It’s for anywhere that needs power,” Talty said. “Demand is strong.”

As for PCC, it’s just another example of how the college works with industry quickly to provide needed training for their workforce. And the college wants to expand its workforce training services in Washington County to serve the growing needs of industry in that region by going out for a $374 million bond measure this November.

“It’s nice because we were able to work with other parts of the college in providing specialized services to SolarWorld,” said Paul Wild, director of Customized and Workplace Training programs, whose department also lured San Francisco-based Genentech, Inc. to Portland and helped to create a bioscience technology short-term training program to serve their workforce needs. “We are there for them on a permanent basis. These are long-term partnerships because we know enough of the companies and know their training needs. We help provide workforce development services they need to help ensure they prosper in our community.”

Microelectronics Program Develops Solar Options

To help the company meet the need for developing future maintenance technicians locally, Talty said SolarWorld has partnered with the PCC’s Microelectronics program to create several solar options. His company is interested in developing graduates in solar cell manufacturing, which is very similar to the process of integrated chip manufacturing that the college’s program specializes in. As a result of working with SolarWorld, PCC developed the new photovoltaic technology associate’s degree and is establishing a scholarship for the students in it.

The program, which will start in the fall, is 95 credits and has been approved by the college, but is pending state approval. The associate’s degree program can serve as many as 40 people and will produce the maintenance technicians that SolarWorld would need to staff the new plant. In addition to the new degree offering, the Microelectronics program also designed a short-term training certificate of completion in solar technology. This option started this summer and accommodates as many as 20 students per class.

“SolarWorld is interested in hiring these people this summer,” said Dorina Cornea-Hasegan, microelectronics instructor and department chairperson. “It was designed to be a career pathway. We recruited people from the community and they will be trained exactly how the company needs them to be trained.

“My phone is constantly ringing with questions on solar,” she added. “The demand right now is high.”

Cornea-Hasegan said she expects that SolarWorld will need to hire several hundred workers in the next few months and – with company plans to double the plant’s capacity in the near future – her program will be on the frontlines of solar training to meet that need.

“This is a great opportunity for PCC and my program to be a liaison between community and industry in Oregon,” she said. “They have the infrastructure for a good start here and PCC is ready to help them train the workforce they need.”