Inspiring the engineers of the future to improve labour shortages in the solar sector

Solar technology is currently not visible to children as a possible career option for the future. If solar was made more accessible and visible to children throughout schools, more young people will imagine working in the solar industry.

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Whilst the solar industry created thousands of new solar jobs in the last few years, many of the jobs went unfilled. The Solar Foundation recently published that over 80% of solar businesses found it difficult to fill open solar installation positions in the last year or so.

Employers within the industry are finding it challenging to hire suitable people for skilled solar positions and have emphasized the costs incurred during the hiring process. The 2017 Solar Training and Jobs Report published by the Solar Foundation cited that jobs are being removed because employers are struggling to find suitable and qualified workers. This situation is not unique to the solar industry and is a common challenge across the engineering and general industrial sectors in the USA.

However, the solar industry is different to other sectors as its a relatively new sector and is currently undergoing massive industry growth. Over the last few years, the solar sector has generated thousands of new positions. This rapid growth has not been met with similar rates of attracting new professionals to the solar market. Experts believe the solar market will continue to grow and suggest that in order to satisfy this growth of jobs, solar industry needs to be incorporated further into schools to encourage the workforce development.

Solar technology is currently not visible to children as a possible career option for the future. If solar was made more accessible and visible to children throughout schools, more young people will imagine working in the solar industry. Incorporating solar into education would potentially have a ‘ripple effect’ on communities. As students learn more about the industry, the knowledge transfer to parents and other people will result in a spread of information through a community.

Understanding the process of the solar industry, its contribution towards the environment and our planet is something children today need to be learning about. Some schools are now incorporating solar education into their curriculums. Having solar technology on-site enables more children to train and learn about solar installation or other specific solar industry careers.
A school in West Virginia has recently partnered with a solar giant, Dominion Energy to incorporate a solar electrical course into its curriculum. The school has received a grant to provide students with the opportunity to work and understand firsthand the process of solar installation.

Solar industry experts have emphasized labor shortages are due to the lack of communication between installation companies and training institutions. The case study in Virginia is a perfect example of how an educational institution can communicate with a solar business and understand how individuals can become more involved in the sector. Students are not only learning about the industry but are also being provided with the skills and opportunity to work towards a viable career path within the solar industry.
Some experts suggest that trade schools need to continue offering solar courses and companies being available to cross-train skilled candidates in relevant energy fields. Training programs need to communicate with solar businesses to truly understand what they are specifically looking for in candidates.

There are general misconceptions that to enter the solar industry you require years of experience and specific degree or certificate but industry experts believe the barriers to entering the industry are relatively low. Individuals with basic hands-on experience, an understanding of the solar technology process is generally satisfactory for many employers. Employers then say individuals can continue to train whilst gaining employment.

Some solar businesses are now offering potential employees the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through alternative energy development internship courses during the summer months. As with most internships, individuals gain real industry experience and allow employers to selective prospective candidates for employment in the future.

Increasing the collaboration between solar companies and training institutions will greatly improve the solar market, making it stronger and more competitive. By increasing awareness of solar jobs to job seekers and ensuring training facilities understand what solar businesses require will improve the current challenge facing the solar labor market.

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