Strategies for Meeting Workforce Demands

Just how bad is the shortage of workers in the solar industry? Mark Culpepper, a SunEdison vice president, says on a scale of one to 10, the US hovers at a manageable five. But if the industry grows as expected, watch out.

Extending the federal tax credits for solar through 2016 is expected to create 440,000 permanent jobs in the US solar industry, according to Navigant Consulting. These jobs will be in manufacturing and distribution, as well as the building trades, spurring new demand for electricians, plumbers, roofers, designers and engineers. The immediate concern among companies is finding enough qualified installers.

“Those are big numbers. The industry is going to have to adapt and figure out ways to accelerate the development of qualified personnel. Right now I would call it a marginal roadblock. In the future, it could become a very big road block,” says Mark Culpepper, a SunEdison vice president. In preparation for a tightening of the workforce, solar companies are taking a careful look at the best ways to attract employees.

MORE WORKERS NEEDED

Job demand tends to be highly localized as specific states and cities initiate programs for rapid growth of PV installations. SunEdison’s Culpepper describes them as "mushrooms popping up all over the country." The most prominent mushroom is California, which dominated the market with 58% of all PV installations last year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

In fact, high-demand solar jobs are expected to grow by about 50% over the next year in California’s Bay Area, creating 1,900 new jobs in the region and 5,000 statewide according to a report, "The Bay Region Solar Industry Workforce Study," completed in March by the San Francisco Bay and Greater Silicon Valley Centers of Excellence.

"A lack of workers is one of the biggest problems in the industry," says Abigail Baxley, executive director of the Northern California Solar Energy Association.

NAVIGATE CYBERSPACE

Internet recruiting has become an easy and inexpensive way to find employees for many US businesses, and the solar industry is no exception. Solar companies rely heavily on their own Web sites and job posting boards to attract applicants. Sites like Craigslist, which gets over 30 million hits a month in the US, can deliver a large volume of responses quickly. Sites that offer content about clean energy or environmental issues can narrow the field to job seekers with an interest in solar technologies.

"I like Greenjobs the most because they are hyperlinked directly from the job posting at Solarbuzz and have a great Web site full of solar industry resources. Another site, Indeed, returns the most listings from several portals. They also have great salary survey information. Monster and CareerBuilder both have benefits, including learning resources for effective career searches," says Liz Merry, owner of Verve Solar, a Davis, California consulting firm. Merry teaches a class called "Find Your Dream Job in Solar" for the Solar Living Institute and elsewhere.

SolarCity, a solar installation company headquartered in Foster City, California, received tremendous response when it posted a position on Craigslist, Linkedin and Renewable Energy World Online. Within 6 hours, the ad attracted more than 100 responses.

Depending on a company’s recruiting budget, selecting appropriate sites for posting an opening may be limited. Some Web sites offer free listings while others charge a fee.

RECRUIT TRAINING PROGRAM GRADUATES

Community and junior colleges have stepped up to train workers for the emerging green-collar economy. Solar companies partner with colleges to help them develop curriculum materials and design programs, particularly for solar installers - then they recruit their graduates.

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