Interview with Adela Wilson at Hiring Our Heroes & LaTisha Phillips at Onyx Renewables Partners
Did you know that 59% of employers have reported that veterans perform ‘better’ or ‘much better’ than their non-veteran peers? Catherine recently spoke with Adela Wilson at Hiring Our Heroes (HOH) & LaTisha Wayne Phillips at Onyx about how HOH, through IREC’s Solar Ready Vets program, is enabling veterans to transition back to civilian life with new clean energy careers. The program is funded by the DOE & has allowed veterans like LaTisha to leverage their military experience to support the energy transition. Adela spoke about the impact of the program & the other renewable energy companies they work with, such as DNV & Sun Power, & how they support veterans in developing the skills they need to succeed in cleantech. LaTisha talked about how she decided to work in solar energy, how her military skills translated, & what she’s most excited about working on at Onyx.
Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have two amazing ladies that I’m really, really excited to have joined me. Adela Wilson, who’s the program manager for Hiring Our Heroes. And LaTisha Wayne Phillips who’s the manager of policy and corporate affairs at Onyx Renewables. Welcome.
Adela: Thank you for having us.
LaTisha: Thank you.
Catherine: I think that both of you are in DC, right?
LaTisha: Yes, we are.
Catherine: Yes! So DC ladies representing today. I first became aware of Hiring Our Heroes through Jim Brickell. He’s a Marine veteran who had taken part in the program through SunPower. And so he was the one that told me about it. And then of course, people like Noelle Paige, who are huge advocates of the program. Super excited to have you tell us more about it. So, Adela, do you want to start with it with your background?
Adela: Sure. Absolutely. Like you mentioned I’m Adela Wilson. I’m the National Capital Region Program Manager for the corporate fellowship for Hiring Our Heroes. I am a military spouse. I relaunched my career after following my husband around in 2019. So really passionate and excited to be leading this DOD skill bridge program for Hiring Our Heroes. I’m thrilled to be here today and talk about our programs and how we facilitate that connection between military talent, with our solar companies and other industries in our program. Thank you for having me.
Catherine: LaTisha, tell us a bit about yourself.
LaTisha: So as you know, I’m a former Hire Our Heroes fellow. I did about 25 years in the military. I served in the army for 25 years. I was a military intelligence officer. I’m also a military spouse. So I have a husband who’s currently serving on active duty. And when he’s ready, I’m going to pass him along to Adela to join the fellowship as well. I’m a former Army officer, and now just really enjoying the second chapter of my life, after the army.
Catherine: Adela can you provide an overview of Solar Ready Vets? I believe it’s a program led by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council that Hiring Our Heroes is involved with?
Adela: Absolutely. So the Solar Ready Vets Network is a collective of initiatives that is funded by the Department of Energy and like you mentioned, Catherine led by the Interstate Renewable Energies Council. So they connect service members to solar training and career pathways. And they do that by a variety of ways and partnerships with leading industry and training partners, and veteran service organizations, which is where Hiring Our Heroes comes in. We’ve been a key partner of theirs since 2019. So for those of who are not familiar, Hiring Our Heroes is a nonprofit. We’re part of the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which is the nonprofit arm of the US Chamber of Commerce and we help transitioning service members militaries and military spouses to launch meaningful careers. So since 2019, we’ve assisted 87 service members like LaTisha to launch leadership careers within the solar companies ranging from small startups to national employers.
Catherine: LaTisha, how did you get involved with Hiring Our Heroes and then subsequently Onyx?
LaTisha: So, during my preparation for retirement, each army soldier is required to attend a Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program, which we call SFL TAP during that time they provide us with information on different programs that are available for us with different benefits that we can take advantage of. And so Hiring Our Heroes was part of a plethora of skill bridge opportunities that retiring or even just ETSing service members could take advantage of. And so, by word of mouth, I had already heard about Hiring Our Heroes from former friends who had retired previous to me, and so when it was my time, I decided that I would go ahead and apply for the fellowship. And that’s the way that I got involved with Hiring Our Heroes.
Catherine: I’m curious what made you decide on clean energy? Like what was it within your 25 years within the Army? Was it something that had always been of interest? Was there a point that it became of interest, that something happened that made you interested in it?
LaTisha: So honestly, I can say that I probably didn’t think much about renewable energy until COVID. And, for me, it’s more personal. It wasn’t that I thought about, oh, I want to do a career in renewables, but it was more personal for me. Is because during that time where we were quarantined, and everyone was stuck in their homes, and we weren’t going to work, we weren’t commuting. We weren’t doing all those things. I really, I know this may sound kind of crazy, but I got outside more and just got I walked more and I looked at the sky more and it just to me, my surroundings look totally different to me. As far as it just felt cleaner. The air felt no less polluted. And I said you know what? I’m interested in ways that how do we sustain the earth, what can we do better? And so, initially, when I was contacted by Onyx and another renewable energy company, at first I was a little hesitant because it was just the hesitation came from not feeling that I had the skills, right. I didn’t know a lot about renewable energy.
Catherine: I’m laughing because I remember speaking to you, and I was like, I’m sorry. You were in the army for 25 years and what was your job? Oh, weapons of mass destruction, and you’re feeling insecure? About permitting in real estate negotiation? Remember, I was like I think you’re going to be alright.
LaTisha: I do! Because at that time, I was working for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. So I was kind of like, I don’t know about this. And I believe that what stood out probably to maybe some of the companies in the renewable energy space may have been my master’s degree in urban planning and policy. And so I think that might have been, why maybe my resume was given a second look.
Catherine: Nothing to do with your charming personality.
LaTisha: No, not at all.
Adela: I did want to mention, because LaTisha mentioned her degree that made her, so I want to also let folks know that there are training opportunities that are provided, part of the solar rent that’s ready, is training on the job experience. So even if they don’t have those types of degrees, or a background that they think aligns, they can get those hands-on experiences and basically, learn how to translate those skills into the opportunities in the solar industry and other sectors.
Catherine: So tell me about the type of work you handled during your fellowship at Onyx and then like what you’re working on now.
LaTisha: Okay, so during the fellowship, I had the opportunity to work in their project development department. I actually worked for Noelle Paige. And during that time, I had the privilege to kind of get an overview of all functions of the actual company from each of the different functional areas. Specifically for Noelle, I was doing audits on Salesforce. I was looking at current projects previous projects, I was kind of doing audits on those projects to make sure that if there was data that needed to be collected or data or anything that may be missing that could slow down a project, that I was kind of the one doing the QA QC, to double check to make sure everything was in line. In addition to that, I also assisted a consultant firm with helping Onyx to look at their internal processes, concerning their project development, all the different phases of a project from start to finish. And I was able to, with the consulting firm, identify areas of where we could delineate responsibility between the different functional areas, which would help to make the process smoother. And in addition to that, help to identify redundancy and make sure that it was it just helped the process to move smoother, faster with everyone understanding what their responsibilities were. And so that’s what I focused on the most while I was there.
So some of the other things that I currently do for Onyx is I am the lead for all their ESG efforts. I’m also supporting many of their DEI efforts, and so I’m working DEI efforts for the company. I’m currently working on the bronze certification for the for DEI for the company, and in general just continuing to work as I mentioned before the Legislative Affairs type efforts.
Catherine: I definitely know that Onyx has a lot of senior women in the firm. Compared to other developers. So, I think that that’s also worth sort of giving a little clap and praise to because you can talk about it all you like, but I was on the phone this morning with somebody and I was like, oh, yeah he said, how diverse is the team? I said, Well they’re working on it’s where they’ve hired me. You know what, you don’t even need to answer the question. I’ve just pulled up the Meet the team page. It’s not going to be for me. So, that’s something we could talk about until we’re blue in the face, pull up the Meet the team page, and you look at the executive leadership. I’m not talking about other people within the firm down the line, and we’re talking about the executive leadership, and that the truth is in that *examines photos*.
LaTisha: You know, because I know that a lot of people when they’re looking for employment, they’ll go to those web pages and see: what does the company look like? And do I feel like I can fit in? And so that just becomes very important.
Catherine: Yeah. Did you find that your skills in the military helped you once you’ve gotten to this position?
LaTisha: I do. That was one of the other things that I was concerned with, like, how will my skills translate? And so what I’ve realized is that a lot of the skills that we pick up in the army that we may not think are important, do translate well over into the civilian sector and so analytical skills critical thinking, leading, being able to manage, to be able to track multiple projects at the same time. For me, one of the other things that I’m doing currently for Onyx is I’m working on their legislative and regulatory affairs, so I had some experience from the military when I was a legislative liaison. And so I’m able to use those skills that I’ve learned in the military to help me maneuver around the hill to make sure like I’m tracking hearings, and I’m up to date on what legislation is coming out the bigger thing now, though, was not just federal level, I’m also looking at the state and local level. And so I think those skills were very helpful, my transition over.
Catherine: Adela, so other than Onyx, what are some of the key energy companies that Hiring Our Heroes has worked with to help provide fellowships as well as full time jobs to veterans?
Adela: Solely we’ve worked with 23 companies. So we’ve worked with Onyx, DNB Renewables, Green Power Month, Monitor, FTC Solar, Sun Power, just to name a few.
Catherine: How can veterans as well as clean energy employers get involved with Hiring Our Heroes.
Adela: Solar Vets Ready program is growing and employers are candidates that are interested can explore those pathways and pipeline to talent on the solarreadyveterans.org website see all their resources and initiatives.
Catherine: Another question I had just out of curiosity, is do you just focus on solar like could wind companies get involved for example?
Adela: So we don’t just focus on solar, we work with a variety of different industry sectors. So definitely, from pharmaceutical research to defense contracting, Solar Vets Ready is part of the solar and wind industry. Also Hiring Our Heroes as a whole works with many different industries and sectors.
Catherine: Great. Well, I really appreciate you all taking the time to speak with me and hopefully there will be like loads of companies that once they see this will want to get involved now that they know more about it.
LaTisha: I hope so. I hope so. A lot of veterans out there that will definitely be value added to any company that gets them.