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Our Region's Solar Industry

February 1st, 2018, by Larry McLaughlin

Over the past few months, Michael Goss and his Center of Excellence team (COE) and non-profit GRID Alternatives (the Habitat for Humanity of solar energy) have partnered with me on a labor market study to assess the hiring practices and needs of our region’s solar industry. Out of the 85 unique companies that were contacted, 36 completed the survey for a return rate of 42%. The companies on our contact list are either based in the region or doing business here. I’m proud to share with you this excellent report prepared by our region’s COE (see attached). The report will be a great resource for understanding and meeting the training needs of this growing industry. The following are a few highlights from the Executive Summary:

The resulting report addresses industry trends, firm specializations, job types, education and skills requirements, and challenges affecting companies operating in the region. One of the study’s most important findings is the strong employment growth that employers anticipate in the region. Of those surveyed, employers expected to add 284 jobs by the end 2017 and 672 jobs within the next two years. The study broke solar employment into four job groups for analysis: managers and supervisors, construction and operations, sales and project management. The managers and supervisors group tends to require higher educational attainment and more work experience than the other job groups. Of all the occupations analyzed within these groups, managers and supervisors, engineers, electricians and business development positions tend to earn the highest wages.

Other key findings include:

  • Firm specializations—A majority of companies specialize in residential and commercial installations.
  • Current employment—Most solar businesses surveyed employ 25 to 49 paid workers. Five businesses report having more than 100 paid employees.
  • Future employment—64% of companies, 23 employers, anticipate employment growth.
  • Common jobs—Jobs most commonly employed by firms in the region include: photovoltaic solar installer, electrician, project manager and in-person sales.
  • In-demand skills—Skills identified as lacking for positions with the most turnover include: communication soft skills (oral and written), teamwork soft skills and previous photovoltaic work experience.
  • High turnover—Solar jobs with the highest rates of turnover in the region are: canvassers, sales-in person, sales phone/call center and construction laborers.
  • Top challenges—Nearly 60% of employers identified not being able to access a sufficient pool of qualified candidates outside their company as a challenge. And nearly 40% said current employees who do not have the required work experience is a challenge.

If you have any questions about the study please contact Michael or me. I would also be happy to discuss what the results mean for our related CTE programs.

Larry McLaughlin
Deputy Sector Navigator, Advanced Transporation and Renewable Energy
College of the Desert
43-500 Monterey Avenue
Palm Desert, CA. 92260