Jobs Census 2022
With expanded jobs data on energy storage
and other clean energy industries
Workforce Development | New Hires at Solar Companies | Hiring Difficulty | Education and Experience Requirements | Union Representation and Wages | Workforce Development Strategies | The Rise of Registered Apprenticeships
In the coming years, businesses will need to keep pace with the rapid growth expected in the solar and other clean energy industries, thanks to favorable economics and a suite of new climate and energy policies in the Inflation Reduction Act. It will be no easy task to train, recruit, and retain the qualified women and men who will be needed to work in these industries. Clean energy companies will need to adopt conscious and directed workforce development strategies to develop a pipeline of highly skilled candidates and employees. This will go hand in hand with a commitment to improving the firm culture to value diversity, equity, and an inclusive working environment, which will be essential for expanding these job opportunities to everyone.
For job seekers, clean energy offers attractive career options and competitive wages for people across all skill levels and educational backgrounds. In the solar industry, available jobs include, but go well beyond, entry-level installers. Other opportunities include solar energy system designers, project developers, crew chiefs, electricians, and sales and marketing jobs. In the manufacturing sector, positions range from entry-level technicians to mechanical, electrical, and industrial engineers. Information on the full spectrum of jobs available can be found through IREC’s Interactive Career Maps for the solar industry, green buildings, and climate control technology.
New Hires at Solar Companies
The latest hiring data at solar firms reflects a dynamic industry. Among the new hires in 2022, 43% were newly created positions and 30% were hired to replace workers due to turnover and retirement. Another 27% were existing employees that added solar energy to their responsibilities. This breakdown varied considerably by sector; in manufacturing and wholesale trade and distribution, over half the new hires were newly created positions.
Ever since the solar industry began ramping up more than a decade ago, solar companies have found it difficult to hire qualified workers. This challenge comes with the territory for an industry that is growing rapidly and expanding into new geographic areas. Solar installers have also faced a tight labor market and competition with related industries, such as construction.
The hiring challenge grew more pronounced in 2022, when 44% of solar industry employers said it was “very difficult” to find qualified applicants—the highest such percentage ever recorded in the Solar Jobs Census. Overall, 90% of all solar firms and 97% of solar installation firms said it was either “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to find qualified workers.
The top reasons for hiring difficulty included competition or a small applicant pool, and lack of experience, training, or technical skills among applicants. The positions frequently named most difficult to fill include management, engineers and scientists, and electricians or construction workers. Electricians are a particularly difficult hiring point for the solar industry due to a national shortage of electrician labor. Many states require licensed electricians to work at some stage of the installation process. Solar installers are competing for electrician labor with other businesses, including other clean energy industries (such as heat pump installations or EV charging projects). 1
Education and Experience Requirements
Some solar firms are beginning to require more education and experience than indicated in previous Solar Jobs Census surveys. Nevertheless, the industry continues to be open to job candidates from a wide variety of educational backgrounds. Those with advanced degrees can be hired for management or engineering positions, while entry-level solar installers can begin with little experience and move up the ranks to leadership positions.
Most new hires in 2022 required some previous work experience. However, less than half of all new hires required a bachelor’s degree, about a third required an associate’s degree, and almost none required a vocational or post-secondary certificate. At the entry level, solar companies typically welcome candidates who spent time at a community college or other training program, but they also hire candidates with little experience other than a strong work ethic and a willingness to learn new skills. Both residential and utility-scale firms often provide on-the-job training programs, sometimes working in partnership with local nonprofits and community colleges.
Looking back a few years, the percentage of new hires requiring experience has gone from 44% in 2019, to 65% in 2021, to 81% in 2022. The percentage requiring a bachelor’s degree in these years has been at 27%, 37%, and 43% respectively. Some of this fluctuation may reflect the types of jobs that companies were hiring for in a particular year, but it likely points to a maturing industry where some level of education and experience is increasingly required.
Mentorship programs, including registered apprenticeships, can be a valuable way to help people gain a foothold at solar firms, and are particularly helpful for women, BIPOC individuals, and other underrepresented groups seeking to advance in the industry.2 Overall, 38% of solar firms had a mentorship or sponsorship program in 2022. The types of programs included general mentorship, on-the-job training, apprenticeship, or other internship programs.3
Union Representation and Wages
Overall, 10.5% of solar workers are represented by a union, collective bargaining agreement, and/or project labor agreement. By comparison, 7% of the U.S. private sector workforce and 11% of the overall U.S. workforce is represented by a union. Union representation in the solar industry varies by location. In California, for example, large solar projects must meet state-based requirements on wages and union representation.
The Solar Jobs Census does not survey wages at solar companies. However, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data shows that wages are comparable with equivalent positions in other industries. The median hourly wage for solar photovoltaic installers in 2022 was $21.75, compared to $19.59 for construction laborers and $23.04 for roofers. The median hourly wage for all U.S. occupations was $22.26.4
In the utility-scale sector, new requirements under the Inflation Reduction Act could improve industry wages and job quality. To receive the full 30 percent Investment Tax Credit or Production Tax Credit on projects larger than 1 MW, firms must pay their construction laborers at or above the local prevailing wage, and a certain percentage of work hours must be performed by qualified apprentices (12.5% in 2023 and 15% in 2024 and beyond). While some states and localities already impose similar wage and apprenticeship requirements on public works projects, the IRA will set a uniform standard nationwide.5
Workforce Development Strategies
To meet the need for skilled workers, solar companies can benefit from engagement with the communities where they are looking to hire. They can cultivate partnerships with groups such as workforce boards, community colleges, training programs, local nonprofits, and labor unions. This kind of engagement can promote career development pathways and align local training programs with industry needs. Programs at local high schools can also help develop a long-term pipeline of job candidates who are passionate about clean energy and recognize the value of a career in the trades.
To help set a path forward, IREC and the National Council for Workforce Education organized the National Clean Energy Workforce Alliance, a forum of more than 500 stakeholders including employers, education and training providers, organized labor, community-based and energy justice organizations, workforce program designers and funders, and policymakers. Based on these discussions, the Alliance issued a detailed set of recommendations to facilitate the growth of a skilled and diverse clean energy workforce.6
The Rise of Registered Apprenticeships
Many solar companies offer on-the-job training programs to new employees, requiring various levels of time and commitment. A Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) is a specific training initiative that meets the standards of the U.S. Department of Labor and/or a state apprenticeship agency. Employees in an apprenticeship receive wages at predetermined levels as they gain knowledge, skills, and experience working for an employer under the supervision of an experienced mentor and complete related classroom instruction. Apprenticeships are widely recognized as one of the best ways to develop and retain a skilled workforce.
Apprenticeships are expected to grow in the utility-scale solar industry due to requirements in the IRA, which will mandate by 2024 that a minimum percentage of work hours at large-scale clean energy projects above 1 MW are performed by apprentices. The California law AB 2143 will require at least 20% of work be performed by apprentices. Solar companies can develop and operate apprenticeship training programs in-house or partner with unions, trade associations, educational institutions, or community-based organizations to deliver related instruction and/or administer the program operations.
While the U.S. DOL does not recognize the solar installer as an occupation that can be learned through an apprenticeship, several approved “apprenticeable” occupations can be leveraged to meet employers’ needs, such as electrician, construction craft laborer, and operating engineer. Roughly half the states are approved to manage the apprenticeship system through a State Apprenticeship Agency. One such state, Florida, approved a solar installer apprenticeship program, aligned with the state’s solar contractor license, in 2022. Employers can learn more by reading a toolkit IREC developed to guide clean energy employers through the apprenticeship process.7
Our thanks to Fluke Corporation for their generous support of the Solar Jobs Census. “At Fluke, we witness daily the value and impact solar energy is having on customers across the globe,” said Will White, Solar Application Specialist at Fluke. “This year alone we’ve seen massive strides within the solar space, so we’re excited to be sponsoring this report.”
- Emily Pontecorvo, We need a lot more electricians if we’re going to electrify everything, Canary Media (Jan. 11, 2023), https://www.canarymedia.com/articles/clean-energy-jobs/we-need-a-lot-more-electricians-if-were-going-to-electrify-everything; Danielle Renwick, The US electrician shortage has a simple fix: Recruit More Women, Canary Media (May 5, 2023), https://www.canarymedia.com/articles/workforce-diversity/the-us-electrician-shortage-has-a-simple-fix-recruit-more-women.
- The Solar Foundation and the Solar Energy Industries Association, U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study 2019 (May 17, 2019), https://irecusa.org/resources/2019-solar-diversity-study-3/.
- Since this question was asked in the context of a mentorship program, it may not reflect all companies that held on-the-job training, internship, or apprenticeship programs.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2022 National Occupational and Wage Estimates (May 2022), https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#00-0000.
- Julian Spector, To get tax credits, clean-energy firms must soon meet labor standards, Canary Media (Dec. 2, 2022), https://www.canarymedia.com/articles/just-transition/to-get-tax-credits-clean-energy-firms-must-soon-meet-labor-standards. Additionally, the California law AB 2143 will classify nearly all interconnected renewable energy projects greater than 15 kW as public works when it goes into effect in 2024. This will institute requirements for paying prevailing wages and having at least 20% of the work performed by qualified apprentices across one of the largest clean energy markets.
- Avery Palmer, New Report Lays Out Key Recommendations for Building the Clean Energy Workforce, Interstate Renewable Energy Council (Feb. 9, 2023), https://irecusa.org/blog/irec-news/new-report-lays-out-key-recommendations-for-building-the-clean-energy-workforce/
- Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Registered Apprenticeships Toolkit for Clean Energy Employers, (Apr. 26, 2023), https://irecusa.org/resources/registered-apprenticeships-a-toolkit-for-clean-energy-employers/.