As demand for renewable energy projects increases, particularly solar and wind, employers are facing a challenge—finding a sufficient number of qualified workers to design, build, install and maintain these systems, especially workers with formal and comprehensive training in the fields.
However, the educational community is taking note, and several colleges and universities are now creating programs to teach students about the technologies and award degrees for completion of the programs.
According to www.CleanEnergyAuthority.com, for example, there are more than 20 community colleges in the United States that are currently offering specialized training programs and degrees for the solar industry. The site also lists some universities offering degrees in solar, including California State University–Dominguez Hills, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Penn State.
An article last week in the Wall Street Journal noted that some universities are now offering degrees in wind technology, including Texas Tech University. Other universities, including the University of Texas at Austin and the University of California–Davis, are offering degrees in alternative energy as a whole. UC-Davis is even offering master's and doctorate degrees in the field.
"Across the U.S., universities that have long offered degrees related to the fossil fuel industry are starting to offer degrees and concentrations in wind and solar technologies," according to the Wall Street Journal.
This trend is growing as more and more wind and solar employers are expanding recruiting efforts on college and university campuses, and, at the same time, as many oil and gas companies are pulling back from hiring, partly as a result of the ability to replace some humans with automation.
While degrees for students interested in the oil and gas industry tended to be somewhat narrow and focused, degrees in renewable energy are often more all-encompassing, covering wind, solar, other renewables, the environment, and even "earth resources." This broad-based education, according to the article, prepares students not only for jobs specifically with solar and wind employers, but also to become energy consultants, government researchers, and corporate sustainability officers.
The timing is good. According to the Wall Street Journal, while wind and solar accounted for only 5.1 percent of U.S. power generation in 2014, that has jumped to 8.3 percent in 2017, and trend analysis suggests even more growth in the future.