With all the hype and the investment that has been given to the solar industry in recent years, it should come as no surprise that the industry is taking off. That means job opportunities in the industry are also plentiful.
Data released recently by The Solar Foundation (TSF), a Washington D.C.-based organization dedicated to promoting the industry, confirms that trend. However, the organization also identifies some critical areas that need to be addressed if growth is to maintain its current pace.
In November, TSF released its third annual National Solar Jobs Census. According to the report, the solar industry employed 119,016 Americans at the end of 2012. That number represents a growth rate of 13.2 percent, or 13,872 additional workers, from the same year-end figure in 2011.
Expanding the time frame to three years reveals a rate of growth that is even more dramatic. Since 2010, employment in the industry has grown 27 percent. According to this data, the solar industry is the place to look for jobs. The industry’s job growth rate is eight times greater than it is for the overall economy, which added jobs at a rate of only 3.2 percent during the same time period.
Within the solar industry, the installation subsector holds the lead for most jobs and most jobs added, at 57,177 jobs total and a growth rate of 17.5 percent. The sales and distribution sector, which added jobs at a rate of 23.1 percent, now employs 16,005 workers.
One downside is the manufacturing subsector, which decreased in the last year from 37,941 to 29,742, but TSF reports that many downstream manufacturers are still reporting growth.
TSF also asserts that solar industry employers are confident about continued growth in 2013. However, the organization sounds a warning in a second report, also released November. In an exploratory paper, “Financing the Next Generation of Solar Workers,” TSF, along with co-sponsors SolarTech and the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), examine the solar industry’s growing work force development needs. They point out that the industry can no longer rely on public funding for solar training programs, as much of that funding has already expired. To sustain the need for workers, the industry must pursue other sources of funding.
The authors offer three suggestions, including public-private partnerships, revolving loan programs and crowd sourcing. The latter is a type of online exchange, similar to those adopted by websites, such as Kickstarter and Airbnb.