As I write, there are many encouraging trends that point to continued growth and opportunity for the solar industry. The extension of the Investment Tax Credit, the historic Paris Agreement and the consistently impressive numbers from The Solar Foundation’s Solar Jobs Census, all indicate that the force is very much with the solar industry.
The growing excitement about a solar future is reflected in questions we’ve received from attendees on recent webinars IREC’s hosted about the Solar Career Map:
“What is a potential career path for a mechanical engineer who wants to work in solar?”
“How can women become a larger part of the solar workforce?”
“Is there a pathway for veterans to get involved in solar careers?”
IREC’s Solar Career Map has a lot of answers for folks looking to get involved in solar. Chock full of valuable data about the knowledge, skills and credentials needed to perform 40 key solar jobs, the map also breathes life into these occupations, with five short videos of all sorts of solar professionals speaking about their work and stories of how they came to solar, and their background and skills.
The map illustrates that the solar industry isn’t only the installer you see with panels on a roof, and is not just for people who want to be on their feet all day. It highlights opportunities across four sectors – manufacturing, system design, project development and installation/operations, as well as cross-sector advancement opportunities that can accommodate the evolution of skills and interest for individual workers. As SEI instructor, Kelly Larson, with Kelly Larson Electric, says in one of the Map’s videos: “There’s a place for everybody in solar.”
“But what about entry-level, or jobs for younger professionals?” asked a recent webinar attendee.
A perusal of the map does show the fewest number of jobs on the map are entry level. While the map does not show ALL of the solar jobs out there today, it is a representative sample. And as a percentage, entry level jobs that require minimal training and education are far fewer than those which require credentials and/ or degrees. Even the entry level jobs require some degree of training above workplace competencies, as solar skill sets tend to be fairly advanced, requiring significant math, reading and technical competence.
We know there are a number of you doing excellent work to build bridges and on-ramps for entry level, low-skill, and/or low-income workers seeking to enter solar career routes. So how can you best help folks chart a course to get into a solar career?
The map suggests one tool for bridging this gap by introducing and referring you to competency models. These are tools for identifying the skills to perform a job, developing curricula and benchmarking skills attainment. Competency models, like those linked to from the map, can help young workers and those assisting them to understand the knowledge and skills needed to enter and be successful in a solar career.
It’s also important to remember that career routes in the solar industry don’t necessarily progress from the bottom to the top of the lattice. Workers at mid- and advanced levels may enter the solar industry via lateral pathways that add solar training to a traditional occupation (e.g., electrician, lawyer, engineering technician). As solar grows there are increasing opportunities for those in professions ‘allied’ with ours – like code officials, the fire service, building and electrical inspectors, to add solar to their existing skill set. More on this in a future blog.
Thanks to the US Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative for the funding to make the IREC Solar Career Map possible.