A Q&A with Colton Koch, an apprentice electrician with TruNorth Solar

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Colton Koch is an installer/apprentice at TruNorth Solar. He is currently enrolled in the ETS (Energy Technical Specialist) program at Century College where he earned a NABCEP certification at the associate level. Every day, Colton works in the field gaining the experience needed to fulfill his goals of helping our planet. We talked with Colton about his interest in the field and what his job entails. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

A: I moved around all over the cities growing up and started playing the drums in third grade. I thought that was my pathway in life, I wanted to do art, music, snowboard and skateboard. I’m a big music-head from jazz to metal and everywhere in between. 

I’ve always been passionate about the environment and animals and our home on Earth. My grandfather has been a member of the Sierra Club for a long time. I wanted to check out music schools but he gave me the idea to check out the renewable energy industry and we found Scott Randall’s program at Century College {Scott Randall is the instructor for the Solar and Renewable Energy Program.} My grandfather really opened my eyes to the whole industry and helped guide me to  the path that makes the most sense. I also checked out a pottery school but after meeting Scott and learning more about the class I thought this was a better choice for my future.

I thought this industry made a lot of sense to help the environment in a crucial time and I can make enough money to do my art hobbies on the side. Helping the environment and working in a new and exciting industry hooked me, I think it has the same excitement as the music industry with a more solid future. I like getting to work in an industry that benefits mind, body and soul. 

Q: Tell me about your program.

A: I completed a 2 year program at Century College to learn as much as I could in the industry and I started my apprenticeship during that time as well. My apprenticeship program is four years, or 8,000 hours registered with the Department of Labor. I’m almost finished with my 4 years so I will take my licensure test in September. This is a great program for me because I did okay in school but I’m learning so much more now that I’ve started working in the field. Apprenticeship is great for hands-on learning. 

I maintain an unlicensed electrician card and I have to get continuing education credits to keep it up. I am also taking a test prep class with John Sundae to help get my license. When I’m done I will be a licensed electrician. People with this license have a lot of options, some go into sales, interconnection and design, it can be an entry point for engineers, etc. It does take effort on the individual’s part, you have to put the effort in, but there are a lot of rewards.

Q: How did you find out about TruNorth and how long have you been with the company?

A: When I was looking for jobs, I searched for solar companies in Minnesota and TruNorth caught my eye and had great reviews. They are a small company and a great place to work. I wanted a hands-on job and have been with them for four years. 

Q: What is a typical day like for you? 

A typical day is working on a mix and match of everything on a residential or small commercial job site. We start the day by looking at the diagrams in the morning to make sure we understand the job, we put together a material list and then on-site I assist the electrician running conduit, assisting the roofing guys, just helping and learning wherever I’m needed. I get to learn the entire process of solar installation, which is unique. I enjoy being the connection between the Journeyman Electrician and the Solar Installer. On bad weather days, I can help with site assessments and assist with other aspects of the job site. 

Q: What is your favorite part of the job?

A: When I get to physically put the panels down, that is the bread and butter of the industry. I enjoy the electrical stuff but the customer is always the most excited when the panels are actually going on. I also enjoy running and bending conduit {conduit is the piping that protects electrical wiring} - there is an artistry to it that I enjoy. 

Q: What would you tell someone looking to work in your field?

A: Check out all of your options, the two-year program or the certificates {are both great choices} because it will give you such an advantage in the industry. You’ll learn so much about the industry that will benefit you in the field. When I started working on-site, everything I learned came full circle and you’re just that much more ahead. Read into the industry. 

Q: Anything else you want to add?

A: I don’t think we should bash the fossil fuel industry, the renewable energy industry and fossil fuel industry need to work hand in hand and be respectful of each other. We are all just trying to live on this planet and we should all try to work together. The more people open their eyes to the industry, they realize it's a viable industry and it’s good work. I want to be looked at as a labor force, not a political agenda. Look at the work first and see the good that comes with it.