Workrise: Supporting Solar from Texas to Ohio

AUSTIN, Texas — Located in the renewable energy sector of Austin, Texas, Workrise is the leading workforce management solution for the skilled trades. In addition to training employees for particular business niches, or verticals, Workrise also supports companies in the commercial production space to make their dream projects become a reality.  Training programs are oriented around Workrise’s six verticals of interest: solar, wind, shipbuilding, construction, midstream and upstream oil/gas. 

The mission of Workrise is to put local people to work within these verticals. When looking for the best workers to support commercial projects, Workrise believes there’s no one better than those from the local community to help make the company’s vision come to life.

When Workrise came to Ohio to support an electrical subcontractor, they learned about Ohio’s upcoming boom in solar and renewables. Workrise wanted to be involved and help support the state’s opportunities in the renewable energy sector. After connecting with Green Energy Ohio, they quickly signed on to become our latest Sponsoring Business member.

Canadian Football to Texan Renewables

Tristan Nickelson is a former football player of the University of Texas.  He moved from the Canadian professional leagues to join Texas’ HCS Renewable, a solar staffing and construction company his father started in 2016.  Tristan wanted to shift gears from football into the workforce.  He was drawn to HCS because he sees renewables as the way of the future.

“It doesn’t take a lot to see the world’s largest oil companies now have solar divisions… solar and renewables are the future, both economically and environmentally.”

In a company that works closely to form strong relationships with the workers they train and the companies they support, Tristan found that many lessons he learned in football transferred to his new role as Account Manager.  Mainly, “if you want something, you have to work hard for it”. 

Tristan is always impressed with the hard work and stories of the people he gets to know through his job: “I love to meet different characters… [such as] older farm owners who are excited about their prospects.  It’s interesting to hear their perspectives and learn about how they are becoming accustomed to the solar part of the world.”

In an industry as fluctuating as renewable energy, Tristan finds that there is always a new challenge to keep him motivated and inspired.  The endless possibilities to improve strategies and give clients the best support possible offers constant opportunities for innovation and inspiration.  For Tristan, that’s what it is all about — “asking what you need to be successful, then going out and providing [for our clients].”

Workforce Development in the Solar Vertical

HCS Renewables was acquired by Workrise in 2019.  Only a few weeks ago, Workrise went through a rebranding exercise.  The overarching vision of Workrise is to empower the workforce and allow an individual to move from project to project or vertical to vertical.  This involves lots of training for workers, often young adults, those looking to change industries to renewables, or workers displaced from older industrial sectors such as the oil and gas industry.  Since their vision lies within workforce development, the company changed their name from Rigup to Workrise to better represent their vision within their six verticals. 

The solar vertical of Workrise originated from HCS Renewables, the family business of Tristan and his father, Ron Nickelson.  They go into local communities that are hotbeds for solar and put together training in solar for anyone who is interested.  Those who participate in the schooling come out of the course as certified solar technicians.  This often includes a pay increase for many workers, as well as an upgrade to traveling solar installers.

As Account Manager, Tristan has a list of his clients that are his responsibility.  He makes sure their projects run well by asking what they need to be successful in their goals.  With big jobs, there can be anywhere from 300-600 people working to complete a project.  An example of this type of project could be Tristan’s current job of turning a service landfill into a community solar project.  Tristan works to solve little problems throughout the day, talk through any big issues, and creatively come up with solutions for clients.

Building Authentic Relationships

Because Workrise is worker-driven, Tristan feels one of the greatest parts of his job is making person-to-person connections.  He drives across Texas and meets with people such as county judges and mayors in smaller towns.  He gets to know the areas and discusses economic opportunities within renewables.  By pitching these projects and settling into partnerships, Tristan gets to meet a lot of amazing people.  Knowing the clients he works for on a personal basis is a cherished part of his role.

One of these projects is located on a solar farm in Southern Ohio.  Connected by a client who needed support, Workrise supports the 200-megawatt project with its unique requirement: that 80% of all labor had to be from Ohio. “We really had to dive deep into the local towns and municipalities to find the highest quality candidates for our client, and they have been blown away by the skill level of our Ohio workers!”

The Southern Ohio solar farm is only one example of many projects where Tristan is excited to develop further relationships with clients.  He noted that “There are more projects under development there than almost anywhere else in the country,” leading Workrise to “see Ohio as one of the next big solar boom states.”  And not just in one vertical — though solar is his area of expertise, Tristan knows the Midwest “region as a whole is also booming from a wind perspective.”

Through efforts such as these, Tristan is looking forward to furthering the relationships with clients that he greatly appreciates.  His favorite project so far that comes to mind is the Rambler Solar Project in San Angelo, TX. This particular project allowed Tristan to develop relationships with the local community.  Because they are in a solar boom, the county has many projects lined up that Workrise has a hand in.  Through this professional connection, Tristan has developed personal relationships with the Head of the Economic Development Office and the Mayor and has made connections through training in local community colleges.  Forming such authentic relationships is something Tristan treasures: “[the Rambler Solar Project] makes me proud, and shows the deep value of relationships.”

Workrise has the goal showing Ohioians that solar is more than a job but a lifelong career filled with advancement opportunities. Through great relationships with clients and with GEO, Workrise is excited to help to provide jobs and workforce training to local Ohio communities.

Continuous Effort Through the COVID Era

Workrise team volunteering at local soup kitchen

When COVID struck last year, Workrise knew their industry would quickly be deemed essential. Working on projects within state guidelines was an essential focus, and Workrise decided to partner with a Houston clinic called I’m Aware. Thanks to this partnership, projects have again become manageable despite potential health threats.

For example, at a site in West Texas, there was a COVID outbreak on a commercial project. In their clients minds, everyone would have to quarantine for 2+ weeks, and for every day of work lost the clients would be losing money. However, Workrise had a plan to help. They went in with imaware and provided on-site testing to 350 workers. Only a few people tested positive, and through robust contact tracing measures, Workrise got the project successfully back in progress within 48 hours.

Looking Toward a Bright Future and Bright Partnership

Workrise has an ultimate goal: to have put a million people to work by the year 2030. The founders agree that their goal is to train and place as many qualified workers as possible, with a specific focus on local employment. Workrise has the idea to fill America’s increasing skilled labor gap by empowering the people who power the world. Getting them in the right positions through the right training is what Workrise is all about, and not even COVID will stop them from pursuing this vision.

GEO is excited to partner with Workrise and to make this vision a reality within the renewable energy industry in Ohio. Stay tuned to see where this exciting new partnership goes!

By Courtney VanHuffel