- Two new reports examining hiring and recruitment data for companies in the renewable energy sector show them ramping up their demand for early-career hires, who in turn are joining the industry in record numbers.
- The Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s latest National Solar Jobs Census shows a “booming” solar sector, said a release from the Solar Energy Industries Association, with 18-to-29-year-olds making up nearly a third of the solar workforce in 2022. Early career platform Handshake reports that U.S. energy employers increased outreach to students by 86% over the past year.
- Eric Johnson, senior manager of talent acquisition at First Solar, said in an interview that the company has internally seen a “dramatic spike” in requests for interns, and hired its largest-ever intern group this summer.
Previously, First Solar brought in the majority of its interns to work in the research and development division, Johnson said, but recently has been adding roles for interns in manufacturing, supply chain, human resources, product and technology.
He said that he considers it an “area of opportunity” for the company to rework its intern program so that interns are able to get experience across multiple divisions of the company, and be exposed to a variety of roles.
The National Solar Jobs Census, released July 19, found that 34% of the industry’s jobs are in installation or repair, 6% are in manufacturing, 19% are in administrative, 20% are management roles, 16% are in sales, and 6% are “other.”
The industry will need additional workers in all of these roles, the report said.
Solar companies reported to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council that the three most difficult categories of positions to fill at their firms are management roles, engineer and scientist roles, and electrician or construction worker roles.
Overall, the companies reported that a small applicant pool is the biggest contributor to this difficulty. Despite a growing migration of young workers to the renewable energy sector, the U.S.’s bold decarbonization goals necessitate even more labor. SEIA said in its release that solar reaching 30% of domestic electricity generation by 2030 will require the workforce to grow to “more than a million workers” and said the sector still has “a long way to go” to meet that goal.
”The solar industry is expected to take off dramatically in the coming years, and despite gains in labor productivity, it will require hundreds of thousands more workers to keep pace with the growth in installations as a result of the incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act,” said IREC in a summary of the report.
IREC’s solar jobs census found that in 2022, 44% of solar industry employers said it was “very difficult” to find qualified applicants, the highest percentage the survey had recorded over the last 13 years.
“This challenge comes with the territory for an industry that is growing rapidly and expanding into new geographic areas,” IREC said. “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.”
IREC reported that 38% of solar firms have a mentorship or sponsorship program, with 21% providing on-the-job training. Only 13% of firms had an internship program as of 2022, the report said.
Kate Urban, a senior research writer at Handshake and the author of the company’s July 20 report, said that the enthusiasm of First Solar and NextEra Energy for recruiting and training interns “stood out” to her when Handshake spoke to those companies.
“There's a lot of enthusiasm for early talent in this space,” she said.
Many renewable companies are in need of skilled trade workers and registered apprentices, but Urban said the industry also needs workers with backgrounds like engineering and cybersecurity.
Johnson said that First Solar currently does a majority of its manufacturing in Ohio, where it has a “well-oiled machine” of recruitment and often engages with community colleges and high school students who plan to go directly into the workforce after graduation.
Outreach with high school students has been “critical” for the company’s ability to fill manufacturing and skilled trade jobs, he said.
First Solar committed $1.3 billion to expanding its domestic operations earlier this year, bringing its investment in the U.S. solar supply chain to a total of $4 billion and expanding its manufacturing facilities. The company announced further investments last week.
The company is looking to replicate its Ohio recruitment strategy as it staffs a new facility in Alabama, Johnson said.
Though the IREC census found that the total number of solar manufacturing jobs increased “only slightly” from 2021, there has been a post-IRA “flurry of announcements” for new domestic manufacturing facilities, “which if built could substantially increase manufacturing employment in 2023 and beyond.”
Handshake is geared primarily toward students at four-year institutions, but the platform works with community colleges and technical schools and is "growing into" offering services to more of them, Urban said. The report’s data, which focused on students at four-year institutions, shows a “real jump” in interest about the renewable energy industry from students in technology majors.
“I think as hiring in big tech has slowed down, there are a lot of college students who are open to other industries and looking for something that feels more stable and secure,” Urban said.
Overall, she said that the data she examined showed a 71% average increase in applications to jobs at renewable energy companies over the past year.
Urban noted that students also seem particularly enthusiastic about the mission of the renewable energy industry. The University of California at Berkeley, one of Handshake’s higher education partners, has a sustainability-focused student organization that coordinates career fairs that connect renewable energy employers with students for roles like internships, she said.
Johnson said that after significant growth of First Solar’s summer intern program over the last two years, the company expanded the program to take on interns in the fall and spring.
“The interest has seemingly spiked like crazy as people are pivoting their thought process to get into an organization like ours that is not only stable, but growing,” he said. “And it’s a company in an industry that’s trying to help the world, trying to change climate patterns. I think kids in school are seeing that, and the overall mission of the organization has driven them to us, as well.”
Correction: We have updated this story to provide a more accurate description of Handshake's partner institutions.