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Inspiring Conversations with Ken Wells of O&M Solar Services

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ken Wells.

Hi Ken, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I grew up in Compton, CA. In my youth, I was involved in gangs and at the age of 15 got arrested and ended up serving six years in prison. After being released at the age of 21. I made the decision to go to Homeboy industry, an organization that supports re-entry individuals getting the skills necessary to get a job. While there, I enrolled in a training program to get certified in Solar panel Installations.

It took me a while to get a job because of my criminal background, but I eventually found a workaround the system by going through temporary agencies that typically do screen as stringently as employers. I worked hard, and after ten years in the industry, I built a strong track record of being a good installer. After working for many companies, I ended up landing a key role at Sunrun the largest national installation company and worked there for two and a half years. During a merge in the company, I was terminated from the company and forced to move on with my career. At the time, I wasn’t sure what to do so I started my own Solar company which is what I have been working passionately doing for the last two years.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The road has been tough, to say the least. I think enough is not said about the challenges reentry individuals face transitioning back into society upon being released from prison. An added burden is when you get incarcerated as a minor but yet are sentenced as an adult and serve a substantial amount of years. My adolescence was spent incarcerated, so my development was stunted in significant ways. Things that a minor usually experience growing up I was not able to experience. After being released, I was forced to think like an adult, the prison system was not conducive to that. You tend to struggle with simple things like learning to drive or money management. I am building bonds with your family after being away from them for so long. I had to learn to adapt from the prison culture I developed as an adolescent to society’s expectations of a 21-year-old adult which I wasn’t ready for and very little support is provided. It took a lot of courage to even believe that I would be successful at getting a job and building a career. I had to make insightful decisions about what to do with my life which can be a daunting task when you are not aware of how society works. Even ten years removed from prison, I still face the barriers of having a criminal record. And building strong community bonds.

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about O&M Solar Services, LLC?
O&M Solar Services LLC is a company born out of necessity. When I was terminated from Sunrun, I could not find a job that matched my credentials which forced me to look elsewhere to further my career. Starting my own installation company seemed to be the best solution. The solar industry is the fastest growing industry in the state of California and although there are 2500+ Solar Contractors there are less than ten African American-owned solar companies in the state. I saw a need there for more representation and felt compelled to use my experience to create opportunities for my community. Being in this industry the last ten years, I saw there was a huge disparity of Minority Stakeholders in the industry and wanted to change that. I also recall for me to get the training to get into the industry, I would have to travel to East Los Angeles on public transportation to get to school.

As well as the number of African Americans entering this industry is very small, I wanted to change that! At O&M, we actively hire from Disadvantage communities, make sure they have access to proper training, and ensure they get fair wages and long-term career growth. I think that is the proudest thing about my career. I want the readers to know that we are in the community and want to work with them to build a more sustainable one while ensuring individuals in these communities get access to good-paying jobs and long-term careers. O&M aims to build a strong connection between economic development, environmental justice, and social justice while being excellent at what we do best and that helps transition cleaner sustainable communities.

Are there any books, apps, podcasts or blogs that help you do your best?
I love to listen to John MacArthur’s “Grace to you”. It has been my faith that has anchored me and helped build a vision that in rooted in living a redeemed life and being an example to those who come from where I come from of what change should look like.

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