“This could change the world,” thought Starla Strong, when she saw the modern solar panels being installed at Maskwacis Cultural College.
The Métis resident of Maskwacis has always been environmentally conscious. She recycles, reuses, and reduces her energy consumption by keeping lighting and heating to a minimum and installing triple pane windows at home to reduce heat loss. She also helps run an annual, environmentally low-impact Halloween event in the community, where everything is DIY and reused. Her Métis culture plays an important role in why she believes “our grounding is from the earth, and it’s time to give back to mother earth.”
That’s why she was delighted to participate in Iron & Earth’s hands-on training in solar skills training program, where she helped install solar panels on the College’s rooftop in 2022, and now plans to participate in future opportunities, to be held at the same location. She was also excited to meet new people, co-workers and potential employers. As it turns out, the friends and connections she made during the program have lasted to this day.
“The program was fun, something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. You can see things from the roof that you can’t see on the ground,” Starla says, with a laugh. She learned about the variety of tools needed for different projects, safety protocols while working with wiring, and solar panel installation, among others. All participants’ course fees as well as transportation, equipment, accommodation and childcare costs are covered during the ten-day program.
“Without the Iron & Earth program on my resume, I would have never gotten my last job (with Edmonton-based, Evergreen and Gold Renewable Energy) installing solar panels on residences,” Starla says. In that role, she learned about different solar panels and systems, how to prepare quotes and permits, create blueprints to send to engineers and order equipment for different jobs.
Her foray into solar power began much earlier, in fact. Fresh from graduation, she partnered with the Montana First Nations’ (one of the Four First Nations in Maskwacis) Akamihk Community Development Society to help her get accepted into its 18-week, solar course program. There, she learned about solar panels both in the classroom and in the field, and received some hands-on training in residential solar panel installation.
That experience was followed by a short-term contract with Montana First Nations on its solar farm. Montana has the largest on-reserve solar farm in Canada, producing enough energy to power 1,000 local homes annually.
“The work was a lot of fun. I was learning about inverters, doing the wiring, and inputting data onto a tablet”
Starla is a believer in on-going education and enjoys doing different training programs to see what she can take from each one and potentially apply it to future work in solar power. “You need a lot of training on your resume or you need an electrician’s apprenticeship, since the hard part is getting your foot in the door,” she says of landing work in renewable energy. Her five-year goal is to become an electrician and then start an Indigenous, all-women solar panel installation business that will initially focus on residences before expanding to commercial installation. She also plans to continue learning about renewable energy and expanding her skill set, to help make her goal a reality.
Here is Starla (second from the right) with some of the other trainees at our Maskwacis training program in 2022.
Interested in a hands-on learning opportunity in renewable energy? Iron & Earth’s Renewable Skills Initiative offers ten-day solar power and ten-day wind power training programs, designed to offer hands-on training in design, installation and maintenance. Follow us on social media or subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date with opportunities. All programs are specialized for delivery in rural and Indigenous communities and are fully-funded by Iron & Earth and its partners.
For more information about Iron & Earth’s training opportunities in clean energy, contact us at [email protected] or 778-771-0852. To search for renewable energy jobs or a career Mentor, visit our Climate Career Portal.
Iron & Earth’s training programs are funded in part by the Government of Canada's Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program.