With funding from the US Department of Energy (2016-2019), The Solar Foundation launched the Solar Training Network, a national workforce development initiative designed to help meet the expanding workforce needs of the solar industry through training and strategic employment partnerships.
Through broad stakeholder engagement efforts, and original research and resources, the Solar Training Network articulated the challenges surrounding solar industry workforce development, and identified solutions to advance a better qualified, more diverse, and job-ready solar workforce.
The Solar Training Network led and promoted efforts: to identify and address information gaps related to evolving solar workforce needs; integrate solar career pathways into the existing public workforce development system; expand work-based learning opportunities; and support solar talent development, recruitment and retention at regional scales. The Solar Foundation continues to leverage the Solar Training Network to promote dynamic industry-education partnerships and stronger talent pipelines.
Strategies for Workforce Development addresses the information gaps identified by Training and Hiring Insights, centered around themes of workforce development and work-based learning. With a implementation guide, case studies, and best practices, we outline actionable, collaborative solutions for the industry to better align education with evolving workforce needs.
Solar Training and Hiring Insights explores the workforce challenges presented by rapid industry growth, and outlines the business case for investment in work-based learning. It emphasizes the importance of practical experience, particularly for the installation sector, and explores the relative value of industry certification as workforce demand varies by region.
A group of Solar Training Network members from across the industry weighed in on workforce development innovations and trends. Despite representing diverse markets and roles, many common themes emerged, underscoring the value of coordinated information sharing and adaptive workforce initiatives.
Case Studies from the Solar Training Network
Work-Based Learning: Key Outcomes from a Midwestern Solar Internship Pilot
Work-based learning programs are valuable tools both for talent recruitment and skill development within a regional solar workforce. As the solar industry evolves and matures, work-based learning is emerging as a central component of solar workforce development and as an investment in long-term industry stability. As the industry expands and demand for solar talent grows, solar companies across the country are encountering similar workforce challenges, In partnership with solar training institutions and workforce partners, these challenges can be addressed through a coordinated approach to work-based learning. This case study details a solar internship program to illustrate successful implementation of the Solar Training Network’s Work-Based Learning Guide
Local Partnerships for a Brighter Future
Recognizing the multitude of benefits and opportunities that solar energy affords, cities across the country are increasingly pursuing policies and implementing programs to help homes and businesses go solar. Along with long-term energy savings and improved environmental health, municipal investments in solar energy attract business, and sustain a range of high-quality local jobs. By pairing solar energy programs with workforce development initiatives, cities can find innovative synergies to simultaneously advance clean energy targets and job creation goals. This case study supplements the Solar Training Network Toolkit, and outlines best practices and key considerations regarding the role that local governments can play in solar workforce development efforts.
Collaborative Regional Workforce Development for an Inclusive Solar future
The majority of solar employers, nationwide across all sectors of the industry, continue to report difficulty finding and retaining quality candidates, particularly for entry level jobs. As the industry pursues regional efforts to expand and shore up a stable workforce, these efforts should be simultaneously paired with deliberate strides toward improving industry diversity and improving accessibility of solar career opportunities to diverse communities. AAs solar emerges as a mainstream part of the American energy sector, stabilizing and strengthening the workforce involves ensuring representation of diverse perspectives. This case study from Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association demosntrates how industry organizations can champion regionally adaptive workforce initiatives.
Solar Industry Diversity Study
In 2017, The Solar Foundation produced the first baseline analysis of representation across the solar workforce. A second edition, released in 2019 provides in-depth data on wages and career advancement opportunities across the industry. The study, based on a statistical survey of solar employers and another survey of employees, found the industry still has more work ahead to meet its commitments to diversity and inclusion in the workforce. This report documents these disparities to understand where we are now, and to provide a benchmark for measuring future progress. It also outlines steps to close these gaps, and we encourage companies to recognize the value of workforce diversity as a smart business strategy.
National Solar Jobs Census
The Solar Foundation produces the annual National Solar Jobs Census, which provides a comprehensive and reliable analysis of the US solar workforce and industry trends. Census has documented the rapid expansion of the solar jobs market in the United States over the past decade.Since the first Solar Jobs Census was published, American solar jobs have increased 167%, from just over 93,000 jobs in 2010 to 249,983 jobs in 2019.
The tenth annual Census report released in early 2020 found that the US solar industry employers nearly 250,000 workers, marking a resurgence in the solar jobs market over the previous two years. Solar jobs increased in 31 states in 2019, and growth well outpaced the national average in many emerging solar markets.
In the five-year period between 2014 and 2019, solar employment increased 44%, five times faster than job growth in the overall U.S. economy.Most of the solar job gains in 2019 were in installation and project development, which added about 7,000 jobs in 2019. Overall, this industry sector employs 162,126 solar workers (nearly two-thirds of the 249,983 total), and about 16,000 of these workers focus on battery storage. The solar manufacturing sector grew by just under 700 jobs to a total of 34,423.
The National Solar Jobs Census is based on a rigorous survey of solar establishments conducted between October and November 2019. The date collection effort included approximately 66,900 phone calls and over 47,000 emails. The survey was administered to 2,766 establishments, of which 1,859 completed or substantially completed the survey. This provides a margin of error of 2.27% for the national jobs data.
Solar Industry Workforce Development
Workforce Development is a process of supporting talent development and retention based on labor market trends. The role of the Workforce Development System is to be an intermediary in connecting supply (talent) with demand (business and industry) through assistance with career pathways, hiring and recruitment, sector partnerships, and training. These resources are available to alleviate workforce challenges, and ultimately benefit both businesses and job seekers. The more the solar industry leverages the workforce system’s resources to meet it’s training and hiring needs, the better it will be able to expand and strengthen the solar workforce. Effective workforce development strategies are industry-led and align training with in-demand skills through collaborative information sharing networks with diverse stakeholders.
Employer-trainer partnerships for hands-on education are a key part of supporting a job-ready solar workforce. Work-based learning includes a range of employer-led activities related to career development, from informal, short-term engagements to more structured skill-based programs.
Sector partnerships are efforts among industry stakeholders to collectively engage the public workforce development system. Convened at local or regional scales, sector partnerships address common workforce challenges and identify collaborative solutions.
THE BUSINESS CASE for solar workforce development
Develop a coordinated, cohesive industry voice to communicate labor market information and influence policy
Externalize the cost of training and hiring with business support services and funds for targeted skill development
Plan for long-term stability by aligning training curriculum with actual workforce needs
Improve localized talent development, attract strong candidates, and retain quality employees
Support regional capacity for adaptive management as solar markets continue to expand and evolve
Industry-led initiatives that:
IMPROVE communication among regional networks,
INTEGRATE solar careers into the existing workforce development system, and
INVEST in the skill sets of people who power the industry…