Lack of enough solar installers to meet demand restricts growth in the industry, costing solar installation companies real money in recruitment costs and missed opportunities. This is one of the conclusions reported by the Solar Training Network, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The lack of trained installers exacts other costs. Closer cooperation between employers, workforce experts and training resources could go a long way to resolving these problems.
Costs of an inadequate workforce
The 2017 Solar Training and Hiring Insights Report examines challenges facing the solar installation industry and provides some suggestions for addressing these challenges. This industry is experiencing exponential growth. Between 2011 and 2016, the entire solar workforce grew 247 per cent, mostly in installation firms. The expected rate of increase for 2017 is 10 per cent, down from 2016’s 24.5 per cent, but this decrease could result from the dearth of employees.
In addition to opportunity costs mentioned above, inadequately trained staff increase the number of botched jobs. A 2014 study calculated that reducing do-overs of botched jobs by only one per cent would save $10 million per year.
The lack of staff drives up the cost of solar installations. Labor constitutes about 11 per cent of the non-hardware costs per installation. Hardware costs are comparable between the United States and other countries. The increased labor makes the entire package pricier and possibly less attractive to potential purchasers.
Labor market supply and demand
The 2017 survey found that 84 per cent of installation company owners reported trouble filling positions. Finding experienced applicants is nearly as difficult. Despite the lack of barriers to entry—most employers do not require any kind of certification or experience—finding people to hire, whether or not they are already trained, remains a significant problem.
Demand for solar installations, and people to do them, varies geographically. This disparity has in some cases produced too many training program graduates in some areas and not enough in others. A geographical demand index created for this report provides needed information for labor force planning.
Accurate supply predictions do not address the lack of training. Company owners provide on-the-job training, mostly home-grown. This group wants the industry as a whole to establish standards for workplace practices and tools. Some training topics, like safety practices and basic electricity, are easily transportable between employers.
Even where training programs exist many companies, especially smaller operations, lack the time or knowledge to seek them out. Federal, state and local workforce development organizations offer an abundance of training and other services. Connecting trainers with employers will go a long way to improving the workforce knowledge base.
Demand for solar installations, and people to do them, varies geographically. This disparity has in some cases produced too many training program graduates in some areas and not enough in others. A geographical demand index created for this report should inform future labor force planning.
The way forward
Several resources in the report, like the geographical demand index and a summary of tools and resources already available for training and recruitment, bring together critical information that is scattered and hard to find. The report’s authors emphasize that collaboration between solar company owners and industry groups, workforce development agencies and training providers is key to keeping the industry growing and customers satisfied.