The solar industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the nation, and offers tremendous opportunities for workers from all backgrounds with plenty of job opportunities for individuals who want to join a rapidly growing sector with high demand and a positive environmental impact.
After a slow start at the beginning of 2022, the solar capacity is expected to grow at unprecedented rates, in part due to the benefits offered by the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). In fact, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie are forecasting that installed and operational solar capacity may increase threefold in five short years, skyrocketing from 129 GW today to 335 GW by 2027.
In addition, the IRA also offers a major incentive to consider employing apprentices as part of the workforce of large solar project constructions. Projects over 1 megawatt are eligible to receive the same Investment Tax Credit (ITC) as smaller projects if they comply with apprenticeship requirements. The IRA uses the term “qualified apprentices” refers to those participating in a “Registered Apprenticeship Program”.
At the Solar Washington’s 2022 Washington State Solar Summit in October, the panel on Workforce Development included Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment Director Jessyn Farrell, Sphere Solar Energy CEO Edwin Wanji, Puget Sound Electrical JATC (Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee) Training Director Ryan Bradt and NW LECET Renewable Energy Representative Aubrey Newton. They provided insights into how to get trained, how to join the industry, apprenticeships, and pathways for individuals to enter the solar industry, and how their programs work.
Those interested in learning more about the Puget Sound Electrical JATC or applying for Apprenticeship can do so at PSEJATC.ORG. Applications are taken and interviews are conducted year around.
The Northwest Laborers Training Program is actively looking for apprentices interested in starting a good career in energy industries through Washington State. Those interested can go to www.nwlett.edu or contact Aubrey Newton at [email protected].
Sphere Solar Energy is welcoming participants into the Clean Energy Job Pathways program. The next session will start in May-June. An outreach event is planned on January 31. If interested or for more information, contact Sarah Ali at [email protected]
In addition to those local opportunities and training offered by various technical colleges, Solar Energy International offers a wide selection of online training with credit hours towards NABCEP Certification.
To get more people into the clean energy industry, PSEJATC Bradt said, the Puget Sound Electrical Apprenticeship school provides training in three programs that lead to certification in Inside Wire Journey Level (Construction) Electrician, Limited Energy/Sound and Communication Journey Level Technician, and Residential Journey Level Electrician. The construction electrician program is 4 years, the Limited Energy program is 3 years and the residential program is 2 years. Apprentices enter the program on a year around basis in cohorts by completing a boot camp style preparation class. After completing the required safety training Apprentices are dispatched to contractors.
Apprentices gain skills and knowledge by working alongside journey level workers in the field and in the classroom. While in the classroom participants attend 200 hours of related supplemental instruction per year including leadership development. Depending on the program, participants receive 2,000 to 8,000 hours of on-the-job training. The school, which is a non-profit organization, also provides support and mentorship. Participants of the Inside Wire program may finish the program with an associate degree. The school receives about 2,000 applications per year, interviews 1,000 individuals and selects up to 350 for the available spots. Recruitment focuses on diversity and the program works hard to ensure retention of its graduates. Support and mentorship are also critical to retaining apprentices. “Once somebody is in our program,” Bradt said, “we want to make sure they stay there!”
LECET (Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust) also has workforce training and development programs at its training sites in Spokane, Kingston, Des Moines and other locations, Newton said. LECET is a local union affiliated with LIUNA (Laborers' International Union of North America), which is an international union in nine states and Canada that includes 11,000 members and 5,000 contractors. The Laborers’ Training Program includes on-the-job training with certified instructors and contactors to make sure the job will get done with quality workers, safely and on time as well as providing a good paying career with benefits to members and their families. Apprenticeship brings reliability and training that results in skilled and hardworking members, Newton said. Once people are trained, LIUNA helps them with having a voice on different issues, helps with getting projects approved and offers good pay as well as benefits such as health insurance and retirement that make the career beneficial.
In additional comments, Newton added that whether it be getting projects approved, working with community groups, providing mental health resources to members and tribal communities, fighting for an equitable, and just transition in the energy sector or offering good pay and benefits (health insurance and retirement) that make the career beneficial, LIUNA supports an all-of-the-above energy future.
Sphere Solar Energy has launched a clean energy pathway program that focuses on outreach to BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color) individuals and zip codes that are underrepresented. Provided in connection with the City of Seattle, the Clean Energy Job Pathways program includes clean energy instruction, job training, and apprenticeships with the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 46 electrical union. The 200-hour paid internship held weekly “is intensive” Wanji said “including classroom time, solar site analysis, energy auditing, going out in the field, hands-on experience, tangible exposure to equipment, support and mentorship.”
“Solar can work for the community,” Wanji observed.What he is hoping to get out of this, he said, “is for participants to succeed, become passionate about climate change, and want to be involved in this sector.” In addition, Sphere Solar Energy provides Solar 101 and Career Exploration workshops upon completion of its projects in primarily BIPOC, disadvantaged geographic areas.
Watch the Workforce Development panel discussion at the 2022 Solar Summit:
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