As the solar industry grows, so does the need for a well-trained workforce. A nonprofit in Wisconsin is tapping into federal funds and partnering with local colleges to provide much-needed training for the solar workforce there and in surrounding states.
According to a December 2022 Department of Energy announcement, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) is teaming up with technical colleges in the Midwest to develop training curricula and facilitate support for workers entering the solar workforce. Other forms of support include site-based training, entry-level work experience and job placement for new-trainees.
The programs started in 2018, when MREA used $800,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to develop programs to help grow Wisconsin’s solar workforce capacity. The program, aptly named Solar Ready Wisconsin, was soon replicated in surrounding states.
Included in the program is a course that helps students get certification from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. The certification gives workers a qualification that is highly desired by many employers, especially for first-time entrants into the solar workforce.
MREA also launched solarenergy.jobs, an online marketplace for clean energy jobs across the Midwest that connects aspiring solar professionals with local contractors. This regional alignment of trainees with employers creates a strong pipeline for new solar professionals.
The training program is fulfilling a growing need. According to SETO, the job of solar installer is one of the fastest growing in the country.
On the other hand, SETO cites the Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s 2022 National Solar Jobs Census, which found that nearly 90% of solar companies have reported difficulty hiring for this position. Their primary reasons are a lack of experience, training or technical skills.
The training efforts in the Midwestern states are paying off. MREA reports that as of 2022, the Solar Ready Wisconsin network has grown from a few schools in Wisconsin to 16 technical and community college partners in 4 states. Several more colleges are expected to join the network in 2023.
So far, the program has also placed 34 interns in internships with solar companies, and 27 of them went on to get jobs with various partnering contractors.