A transition to a carbon-free energy sector is going to take a large, well-trained workforce. Solar now represents 59% of the clean power capacity in development, gaining 4% in share from 2021 to 2022, said the American Clean Power Association. To reach the federal goal of 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035, the solar workforce will need to more than double from 255,000 to over 538,000, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
With key incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act requiring prevailing wage payment and apprenticeship programs, and the high demand for solar projects and the people who develop, engineer, install and maintain these projects, the prospects for a career in solar are strong.
Each year, RO Energy runs a survey of solar industry professionals, outlining the wages, benefits and perks that can be expected from the industry. This year, the firm released a report for both solar developers and solar engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) careers.
“A slick, efficient recruitment process also positively reflects on the company and makes the opportunity more appealing to potential employees,” said Courtney Howard, senior development consultant, RO Energy. “The hiring process is a two-way street; companies must now sell themselves as attractive employers to secure top talent. The attitude should be to sell the company rather than hire the candidate.”
The RO Energy Survey also indicated a pay gap between men and women, though fortunately that gap is closing. In 2022, men in solar made 16% more in similar roles in solar than women, and in 2023, the pay gap has shrunk to 12%.
“However, there is a significant pay gap at junior levels, and far fewer women are joining the solar industry from a grassroots level. Few women start a career in solar, which only exacerbates diversity issues further down the line. Creating graduate schemes or programs in STEM for women locally would be an excellent initiative to encourage a diverse workforce and actively promote diversity,” said RO Energy.
When asked what the most important benefit was, survey respondents chose remote working options, healthcare and enhanced paid time off as major motivators. For EPC workers, a strong per diem program was also listed as an important benefit for workers in the field.
It may not come as a surprise, but workers in the solar industry are sustainability and environment-focused. On average, survey respondents rated the importance of sustainability as an eight out of ten, with ten being most-important. However, 48% of respondents did not know if their company had a carbon policy, or responded that the company did not have a policy on carbon emissions.
“Sustainability and the environment are important to prospective candidates, seeing bike leasing and electric car schemes gain interest over the last year. Looking after the environment is a recognized issue and proactive efforts for the better are viewed positively by candidates who want to get involved,” said RO Energy.
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