California and Texas are set to be at the forefront of solar industry expansion, but developers could struggle to hit targets due to hiring difficulties

Get ready for the new boom in US solar power. 

In the last five years, installed PV capacity in the US has grown fourfold from 22GW at the start of 2016 to more than 90GW at the end of 2020. But the Solar Energy Industries Association anticipates that installed PV capacity will more than double in the US over the next four years to approximately 200GW.

This poses a number of challenges for solar developers and contractors. One of the biggest is this: will the solar jobs market be able to keep up with the pace?

Unsurprisingly, huge growth means that demand for PV installers will skyrocket. Indeed, data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the job of PV installer will be the fastest-growing between 2018 and 2028. The bureau predicts the number of PV installer jobs will increase by 61% over the ten-year period, from 7,000 to 11,300.

While PV capacity will grow across the US, there are a number of states that stand out as solar hotspots. So, which US states will be at the forefront of the solar boom?

State of play

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, California is ranked number one, second is Texas, and third is Florida. The top five is completed by New York and Nevada.

However, while such states will be lauded as leaders of the solar revolution in the coming years, there is a risk that companies will struggle to deliver due to hiring headaches.

Hiring is a persistent problem for the majority of US solar companies. The Solar Foundation’s latest National Solar Job Census – which was published in February 2020 – included a survey that showed 83% of solar firms found it difficult to find qualified applicants.

Drill down into the data and it emerges that developers and installers’ firms have the most difficulty hiring, with 86% saying they found hiring “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult”. 

Meanwhile, operations and maintenance (O&M) firms find it tough too. The survey showed that 76% of O&M firms find hiring “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult”.

Why is hiring so problematic for solar companies? Approximately half (49%) of them say the main issues are a lack of experience, training, or technical skills.

Two builders workers mounting the panels for the solar energy using.

Hiring difficulties

The challenge for solar companies is that different states are growing installed capacity at different rates. Each state or group of neighboring states can be seen as a market in its own right, each needing to be staffed accordingly. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach. For example, the Solar Foundation has highlighted how, in recent years, hiring challenges have been especially acute in certain parts of the US.

In the East South Central Region, which includes Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee, a significant proportion of employers have reported hiring difficulties. The solar industry is less established in this region, meaning candidates can be difficult to locate.

These problems have also been apparent in the West North Central region. State licensing requirements may also pose challenges when developing a solar workforce.

The Solar Foundation has highlighted how often states without solar-specific licensing require that the electrical aspect of a solar installation be performed by a journey level electrician. Around 30 states require at least one electrician to be on site to perform the electrical work on a PV system. However, electricians can be difficult to hire due to high demand.

In Minnesota, for example, solar companies often have to hire electricians from states with reciprocity in Minnesota because there is a shortage of local electricians.

A helping hand

Faced with these problems, companies often turn to staffing agencies for support.

This is a good idea in theory, but, depending on the company selected, the results can be mixed. Are the employees they put forward self-starters? Does the agency provide 24-hour support to the client? The key to solving the hiring problems many solar companies face is having access to a Workforce Management Solution that goes beyond staffing to also provide technology, training, and professional services that can help get projects done. These partnerships typically offer a bigger database of workers who are better able to match supply with demand and also significantly improve time-to-hire. 

This type of partnership will also be better able to supply the worker you are looking for, in the timeframe you expect. A Workforce Management Solution with a bigger database of workers will also be able to scale up its services in order to reduce your costs and drive greater efficiencies.

This is how Workrise helps clients in the solar sector.

With the solar boom getting bigger, help with hiring will be more important than ever.