Advice for Solar & Clean-Energy Job Seekers
So, you’ve decided you want to get into the clean energy industry! Solar and clean energy jobs are still among the fastest-growing job sectors in the country amid the economic recovery from the pandemic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Solar Photovoltaic Installer jobs are projected to grow 51% from 2019 to 2029, “much faster than the average for all occupations”. (April 2021)
This growth means there are plenty of different kinds of job opportunities, career advancement opportunities are fast-tracked, and the starting rates are comparatively high. GRID’s solar installation training programs help individuals launch careers in this booming industry. We do this work because our vision of a rapid, equitable transition to a world powered by renewable energy that benefits everyone will only be achieved within a framework of social, economic, and environmental justice. That means ensuring that communities who have experienced the worst impacts of the climate crisis are receiving the benefits of the clean energy transition through living-wage jobs and community investment.
Do I need a specialized skill set or a college degree?
Not necessarily. Solar photovoltaic installer jobs don’t require a college degree and often provide on-the-job training. But becoming a solar installer is just one pathway into clean energy. You could also go into solar sales, solar manufacturing, or work in administration, which also don’t often require higher education degrees. Other more specialized roles do require further education, like becoming an electrician, a lawyer, project manager, researcher, government policy & regulation analyst, or work on the financial, engineering, or communications sides of these industries. Many community colleges offer classes or certificate courses to help build your competency or launch longer courses of study in these specialized areas.
One of GRID’s key training programs is Installation Basics Training (IBT), a no-cost, competency-based certificate program designed to develop the skills that are most relevant to entry-level solar installation jobs and related construction employment fields. IBT focuses on individual certificates in industry-recognized skills, providing trainees with valuable hands-on training and access to potential employment opportunities through a rigorous combination of classroom and hands-on material. GRID is also expanding our installation and training services into battery storage and electric vehicle charging as natural companions to solar as we see a widening of opportunities in those industries.
What does that mean for me?
GRID Alternatives opens up a lot of doors for our graduates. Our Workforce Development Program Coordinator Gerardo Ramirez says that “GRID Alternatives is well respected in the solar industry. I've seen employers hire our training graduates and automatically pay them a little bit more just because they went through a program like ours. Employers know that we have a great teaching staff in our Technical Academy.” A recent graduate of GRID’s distance learning program was hired at $21 an hour with no other previous experience!
What are employers looking for?
Despite the massive growth of the solar industry, companies often have a hard time finding employees. Part of Gerardo’s job involves building relationships with solar employers, who come to speak directly with our trainees about job opportunities. “When employers are looking to hire, they are rarely just focusing on someone’s experience. They're more focused on their soft skills. So if trainees can show up on time, if they communicate well, if they can demonstrate that they have those soft skills that are necessary to be successful, they tend to do well in the hiring process.”
That’s why GRID’s training programs also include employment readiness modules that focus on developing these soft skills. When trainees graduate from our program they are prepared to successfully navigate the job search process and meet employers’ skill needs.
Do I have to be physically fit to be a solar installer?
Some people might feel like solar installation and clean energy work is not for them because of the physicality of construction work. Monica Slabaugh, a GRID Solar Installation and Training Supervisor, thinks that solar is for all different types of body shapes, sizes, and strengths. She explains, “In construction now, the biggest muscle you're going to have on-site is your brain. How are you going to work smart? How are you going to prevent injury? How are you going to know your limitations and how are you going to be able to use things like leverage? It's understanding that we have a lot of advanced tools that you need to use your mind to figure out how to use them correctly.”
“I think a lot of people can get injured on construction jobs because they have an independent mindset, a need to do everything by themselves. But when I've worked on crews of all women we're not really going slower, but we're collaborating more and not being afraid to say, hey, let's lift this together and not strain our back lifting this panel over the roof by ourselves.”
How do I find these jobs?
IBT culminates in what we call a “solar showcase,” where local solar employers meet with our trainees to discuss current job opportunities, answer questions, and trainees have an opportunity to showcase their new skills. We also help IBT grads with resume building, interview prep, and facilitating connections with other employers.
Even if you don’t go through IBT, you can also search for job opportunities online. Just search “solar” on any of the big job search sites like Indeed, Idealist, or Craigslist and see what comes up! You can also follow local solar companies or industry groups like The Solar Foundation on social media to be alerted when they post a job opening.
You can stay up to date on the latest news from GRID North Valley (including job openings!) by signing up for our monthly newsletter. For more information about our IBT program, email Program Coordinator email@example.com.