Instructor Matt Johnson with ReVision Energy talks with electrical pre-apprentices as they look over plans for solar panels on a roof during class on Tuesday in South Portland. The program connects immigrants, refugees, and other New Mainers with classroom instruction on safety (such as vehicle, ladder, and harness safety, fall protection, and electrical hazards) and hands-on training on solar and heat pump installation. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Pierre Dende, an asylum seeker who lives in Portland, hopes to take advantage of industry demand for workers in renewable energy by training for a job in the solar industry.

The 38-year-old electronics engineer arrived in the United States from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2021. He has worked in information technology in the airline industry and was a desktop technician at LL Bean in Freeport. He’s currently unemployed, he said.

On Tuesday, Dende was among a group of 10 men being trained by ReVision Energy in an eight-week pre-apprenticeship program that prepares multilingual workers for jobs in renewable energy. The workers on this day were learning to install solar panels, said Astrid Blanco, workforce specialist at ReVision, which installs solar equipment, heat pumps and battery backups.

Dende, whose native language is French, learned of the program as a student at Portland Adult Education. “I’m working on my English,” he said.

His ambition is to be a manager at a solar energy company. He’ll interview Tuesday for a job and is optimistic. “Maybe after this,” he said of the training.

The program, which is funded by a $679,921 grant from the Maine Department of Labor, supported by the Maine Governor’s Office, and offered in partnership with Portland Adult Education, connects immigrants, refugees and other “new Mainers” with classroom instruction on safety involving vehicles, ladders and electrical hazards.


Blanco said with basic safety training and solar certification training, pre-apprenticeships give prospective employees a head start if they want to move on to a four-year program for a journeyman’s license. ReVision, which employs 500 people, is “very much” looking to hire more workers, she said.

Upon completion, pre-apprentices will have earned federal safety and health certification and be ready for employment as electrical apprentices. The program also helps participants establish a Maine JobLink account, and receive clothing and transportation support.

The program also includes administrative work such as budgeting, inventory and business ownership training to expose participants to the possibility of becoming a business owner, Blanco said.

ReVision Energy training new workers on Tuesday in South Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

ReVision Energy, Portland Adult Education and other organizations also help with resumes, interviews and job placement services. Last year, 60% of participants who sought a career in renewable energy found employment, ReVision said.

Employers included ReVision, Maine Solar Solutions and Evergreen Home Performance.

Abbie Yamamoto, executive director of Portland Adult Education, part of Portland’s public schools, said the New Mainers Resource Center is working with nearly 1,800 people who have arrived from overseas and other states with significant experience they want to apply instead of settling for a minimum wage job. Most participants are from overseas, including Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Cambodia, Taiwan and Vietnam, she said.


A February report says investments supported by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Inflation Reduction Act and a program providing incentives for high-tech manufacturing would generate an average of nearly 3 million jobs a year if investment is sustained at anticipated levels. Job growth will be particularly big among occupations that do not require four-year college degrees as a qualification, it said.

Pre-apprentices earn hours and skills they can apply in a registered apprenticeship. At graduation they have priority for interviews or job placement, the state Department of Labor said.

Apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs are open to anyone, across industries, the Department of Labor said. Several pre-apprenticeship programs work with populations that have barriers to employment, including “new Mainers.” If needed, English-language learning is included within pre-apprenticeship programs, helping potential workers strengthen their English skills while earning credentials recognized by industry.

Other programs include an eight-week session offered by the Associated General Contractors’ Maine Construction Academy in Saco in partnership with Catholic Charities. It includes English, safety, employer tours and hands-on training. One class of 18 individuals, almost all of whom have entered a registered apprenticeship program, recently graduated, the Department of Labor said.

And the Maine AFL/CIO Union Construction Academy has so far had 47 graduates, comprising mostly new Maine residents. It also has included incarcerated women at the Women’s Center in Windham and individuals with disabilities. The four-week program includes safety certifications, employer tours and hands-on training.

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