A shortage of skilled labor is causing headaches for manufacturers in the solar sector, but getting expert help with training will enable your business to thrive.

Where will solar manufacturing businesses like yours find the skilled labor you desperately need? 

It’s a problem faced by many in the industry. Let’s take the solar module production sector as an example. 

In the US, solar module production has gone through the roof in recent years. According to The Solar Foundation, US solar module production spiked dramatically in 2019 to reach 2,371 MW, this represented a stunning 176 percent increase on the previous year. 

Companies have spotted a tremendous business opportunity here, and they’ve been quick to capitalize. In 2019, two notable solar production facilities opened in the US – the LG Electronics plant in Alabama and the Q Cells manufacturing plant in Georgia.

However, businesses looking to expand in this sector have to surmount a major hurdle. And it’s this: How will such businesses plug the skilled labor gap?

top view worker installing a solar cell on the factory roof.

Baby-Boomers Deserting Skilled Trades

The shortage of skilled labor is a problem for many industries and the solar module production sector is no exception. 

There are two key factors at play here: firstly, baby boomers are leaving construction, manufacturing and engineering jobs in their droves – this is a particularly big problem when you consider that the majority of baby boomers work in skilled trades; secondly, a smaller proportion of people from younger generations are entering skilled trades – this is largely because the construction, engineering and manufacturing sectors are facing increased competition from sectors such as technology and business in the hunt for new recruits.

Here’s a simple way of thinking about this demographic change in relation to the construction sector. The median age of the US construction workforce is now 42, data shows, but back in 1985, it was only 36, according to research. 

It’s clear that fewer younger people are joining the US construction workforce. This dynamic is mirrored in the manufacturing and engineering sectors.


The Struggle To Find Skilled Workers

How big a problem is this for businesses? A total of 62 percent of companies are struggling to fill skilled trade positions, while 74 percent predict a “shortfall of qualified skilled trade workers”, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.

So, while demand for solar module production is soaring, meeting this demand is going to be problematic for manufacturers as they will struggle to source the labor force they need. 

Studies have highlighted the extent of this problem – a total of 80 percent of solar manufacturing companies find hiring “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult”, according to The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census.

Another key issue is training. As the industry evolves, workers need to acquire new skills, but such training is not always available.

Training and retaining a robust skilled workforce has been a growing priority for us and others in our industry. McCarthy Building Companies — Solar Energy and Storage Group

For this reason, McCarthy Building Companies places considerable emphasis on training frameworks that not only provide a formalized training experience, but also help to provide skills that are transferable.

However, such training is, in general, in short supply unfortunately.


Better Training Is the Answer

Though the benefits of proper training are numerous, The Solar Foundation has highlighted how many construction projects, for example, continue to rely on very informal training methods. 

And the solar industry faces a particularly significant challenge in the context of training. The wider construction industry, for example, often depends on apprenticeships that teach workers a trade over a period of years, but this is an unrealistic approach for many solar projects, which need to build a workforce quickly.

But the provision of improved and formalized training has benefits for both employers and employees. 

For employers, it means they have greater access to an in-demand skilled labor force when they need it most. This benefit has been highlighted by McCarthy Building Companies, which has said that proper, formalized training “allows us to transfer people between job tasks and easily transfer them to the next project.”

Meanwhile, employees benefit from specialized training in that they are given experience and knowledge that can be transferred to other industries, meaning they are less susceptible to fluctuations in demand.

Providing workers with transferable skills will also enable the industry to retain experienced and qualified employees. Losing such workers causes difficulties for solar companies as it means they have to locate, hire and train new workers. 


How To Solve Your Workforce Issues

According to The Solar Foundation, more than a quarter (26 percent) of new solar industry hires in 2019 were due to staff turnover or retirement.

However, there are a number of steps solar companies can take to ensure they reach their workforce development goals.

One of these is to use resources focused on workforce development. In other words, this involves contacting training providers, community colleges, and workforce boards, and expanding work-based training programs that allow entry-level employees to learn on the job. 

Given the rapidly evolving nature of the industry, solar companies need workers with the latest skills. Even highly skilled workers may be lacking the most up-to-date training. 


This Is Where Workrise Can Help

Through training, cross-training, and other worker-driven programs, workers are able to keep up with innovation and stay working.

Given the unpredictability of demand, solar companies need a hiring agency that can find skilled workers, and then train and certify them.

Equally importantly, solar companies need an agency that can do these things quickly.

With solar module production, in particular, soaring, companies that adopt this approach will be best-placed to capitalize on what is a dramatically expanding market.

Talk to us: Workrise can help with staffing, technology, training, and professional services – so you can get back to focusing on what you do best. Visit our website at www.workrise.com.