28 Aug 2023
By Martin Pochtaruk
Energy jobs are incredibly hot right now. In its most recent U.S. Energy & Employment Jobs Report (USEER) report, the Department of Energy (DoE) revealed that clean energy jobs grew 3.9 percent from 2021 to 2022. Solar was one of the fastest strongest sub sectors during this timeframe, growing 3.7 percent and gaining more than 12,000 workers.
These numbers should be no surprise. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and an overall favorable economic environment for clean energy are driving growth of a diversified solar manufacturing supply chain in North America. The Treasury Department recently reported that nearly 200 clean energy projects have been announced since the IRA’s passage. Such tremendous momentum for cleantech projects drives equal momentum for workers to support the manufacturing, transportation, installation and maintenance of these technologies.
Fostering a large, skilled solar industry workforce is essential to support historic U.S. solar project growth, and to develop a sustainable supply chain that spans North America and beyond.
Start on the Right Foot: Attracting Talent
U.S. solar job growth isn’t a brand new phenomenon – the Interstate Renewable Energy Council reported that solar jobs increased 9.2 percent from 2020 to 2021. What the IRA has done is shine a light on the dire need for even more rapid growth to support demand – a SEIA study estimates that the solar and storage industries will need to double their workforce in the next decade.
Attracting skilled, dedicated workers to solar manufacturing jobs and training them for continued growth and development has never been more imperative. What’s the easiest way to attract talent in today’s job market? Offer good wages and benefits and be transparent about them. As the solar industry expands rapidly, manufacturers should continuously seek out ways to compensate their entire workforce fairly. The manufacturing industry is based around in-person shift work, which some prospective hires may view as less desirable than careers which allow remote work and flexible schedules. Compensation should be competitive in light of these factors.
As the industry grows, solar companies have a big opportunity to rethink their commitment to diversity and how it plays into recruiting. Each company can do its part to lessen this gap by pursuing active recruitment opportunities among demographics that have historically been underrepresented in the energy, including women.
Another great way to build up your recruitment pipeline is partnering with vocational schools, community colleges, and other educational institutions. Developing apprenticeship and training programs catered specifically to solar manufacturing helps turn prospective employees into long-term team members. What’s more, the IRA includes incentives for many of these types of partnerships for project construction. They are even mandated within some new legislation. For instance, clean energy projects that apply for the full 30 percent investment tax credit (ITC) must have 12.5 percent of their labor hours come from qualified apprentices who participate in a U.S. Department of Labor or state-registered program.
Stay the Course: Retaining Talent
Recruiting alone is not enough to build a strong, diverse workforce in the energy industry. Companies need to examine their culture, processes and training offerings to ensure all aspects of work are inclusive. New and existing employees who feel more valued and cared for will remain on your team for years to come.
When you’re able to, involve your employees in the creation and review of these processes. Be open to feedback and suggestions on how you can improve and change things to suit the needs of your workforce as it grows. Some companies have found that their hourly manufacturing employees have been extremely receptive to a shift schedule where they work four days on followed by four days off.
As the industry and customer needs, and manufacturing processes evolve, solar companies must also be prepared to make significant investments in apprenticeship and training programs. These ensure your business practices are up to the latest industry standards, giving you a competitive edge. Also, by reinvesting in your own employees, you’re boosting their confidence and long-term value.
Keep Your Eyes on the Future
Solar companies looking to foster continued growth must keep their employees’ needs top of mind. It’s also essential to ensure your entire business is sustainable and poised for long-term growth. With the IRA and consumer demand expected to provide continued tailwinds through this decade and beyond, solar companies must approach hiring swiftly and strategically. If companies commit to more diversity, equity and inclusion practices, and establish relationships with education and apprenticeship programs, it’s likely that we’ll see the demographics of our workforce sustainably shift and expand in coming years.
The business case for solar makes sense in our current economic and social environment, giving us reason to believe its growth will remain strong even if policy changes take hold down the road. Now it’s time for solar companies to craft a diverse, skilled workforce to support their industry for generations to come.
Martin Pochtaruk has 35 years of experience managing manufacturing and innovation businesses across Europe and the Americas. He founded Heliene, a solar PV manufacturer in 2010. Heliene is challenging the solar industry status quo by putting customers first and manufacturing high quality, competitively priced solar PV modules — made to order in North America.
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