New Solar Manufacturing Labor Market Report Highlights Need For Targeted Training Programs

Second SolarTech Collaborative Report Focuses on Photovoltaics Production
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Feb. 2, 2011 - PRLog -- While Northern California may not be a hot-bed of traditional solar manufacturing it is one of the world’s leading locations for developing unique clean energy technologies.
That’s a distinction that the SolarTech Workforce Innovation Collaborative hopes to translate into 21st century jobs for the Bay Area. To that end, SWIC today released its second labor market analysis, this time focusing on solar photovoltaic manufacturing.

Based in part on a half-day roundtable at the San Jose Biocenter on Dec. 15, the report identifies the numbers of jobs and nature of career opportunities available locally.

As a participant in the California Green Innovations Challenge Grant, SWIC is working toward training and placing 245 workers in new solar industry positions. California represents the fourth largest solar market worldwide, and solar companies headquartered in the state are believed to employ more than 30 percent of all solar workers in the United States.

For the most part, however, those jobs are not in traditional manufacturing. Because solar panels have become a commodity, volume manufacturing has shifted to lower-cost areas throughout Asia, particularly in China and Taiwan, SWIC’s report finds.

Instead, California workers are being asked to keep the domestic solar industry on the cutting edge of technology – a role for which they currently are ill-prepared.

That’s where the SWIC partners come in. By identifying and analyzing what solar manufacturers need from their workforce, the consortium can guide educators and job boards in how to prepare job-seekers for those roles.
The numbers for traditional manufacturing are stark, the report notes. Never a large producer of photovoltaics, the United States saw a two-point drop in its global market share, from 7% in 2006 to just 5% in 2010. Few of those jobs remain in California as even locally-based developers move manufacturing to states with strong financial incentives such as Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Oregon. While roughly 19,000 new jobs will be created during construction of large concentrated solar thermal power plants between now and 2014, the vast majority of those will be temporary. Only 1,158 permanent operations and maintenance jobs are expected to be created during that same period of time.

But with 10,000 to 15,000 people employed in solar start-ups in California, with about two-thirds of them based in Silicon Valley, the region is expected to see clean energy job growth in such areas as research and development, early-stage and high-end manufacturing, engineering, supply chain management, operations, business development, and finance.

Companies surveyed during the National Solar Job Census in 2010 reported difficulty in hiring workers qualified for many of the jobs they are most eager to fill. While nearly three-quarters of the surveyed companies reported a need for more engineers, more than half of them reported that they expect to experience difficulty in hiring them.

SolarTech recently began compiling monthly job posting statistics to identify where renewable energy needs are greatest. Of 185 jobs posted in October and November, 31 percent were for manufacturing functions, with engineering and product development experience among the skill sets in greatest demand.
Nearly 60 percent of renewable energy manufacturing jobs require a bachelor’s degree, with eight percent requiring a master’s degree, but analysts noted that not all postings clearly outlined education requirements.
While few local companies reported having any formal training programs or policies, at least two of the companies participating in SolarTech’s analysis – Calisolar and SunPods – said they want to work closely with training and workforce development organizations to prepare new employees for the industry.

It’s part of what SolarTech executive director Doug Payne calls keeping the big picture in mind. “The common theme must be systems thinking,” he says. “Gone are the days when you used to just run conduit. Now you need to run conduit, you need to understand the wiring and the converters and the integrated racking systems and flashing.” At the Dec. 15 roundtable, he urged educators to coordinate curricula and job task analyses so that graduates of their programs understand the entire system, rather than only one small part.

The next in SWIC’s semi-monthly forums is taking place today, Feb. 1, at PG&E’s San Ramon Conference Center, 3301 Crow Canyon Road. Focusing on integrated energy career pathways, the forum is intended to identify job trends in integrated supply- and demand-side energy management. A key speaker will be Van Ton Quinlivan, director of strategic human resources programs and workforce development at PG&E, who will explain the utility’s significant hiring program currently underway.  

About  SolarTech Workforce Innovation Collaborative:
An initiative of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, SolarTech provides innovative inter-disciplinary expertise and works toward removing impediments to local solar markets. Bringing together industry, the public sector and educators, SolarTech drives the growth of solar energy at the state and local level. We focus on results; our efforts provide best practices and implementation standards that make mass adoption of solar a reality.
SWIC is located in San Jose, CA. For more information please visit

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SolarTech provides innovative inter-disciplinary expertise and works toward removing impediments to local solar markets. Bringing together industry, the public sector and educators, SolarTech drives the growth of solar energy at the state and local level
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