By Dawn Allcot
If you're looking for a career with a bright future, you may want to shine a light on the solar industry. The National Solar Job Census 2011, recently published by the Solar Foundation, shows job growth in the solar sector at 10 times the national average for all industries. The solar industry's 6.8 percent job growth, which netted more than 6,700 new jobs between August 2010 and August 2011, is in sharp contrast to the national average of just 0.7 percent growth, and the decline of 2 percent in jobs in the fossil fuel electricity generation industry.
The picture gets even brighter, too. The study found that solar employers expect to add as many as 24,000 new jobs -- a projected increase of 24 percent -- by August 2012.
Andrea Luecke, CEO of The Solar Foundation, identifies opportunities in a number of realms, including research and development/manufacturing, installation and financing. A number of other professions, such as lawyers, accountants and marketing professionals, are also finding new opportunities in the fast-growing solar industry. "Some may call those 'indirect' jobs, but they're incredibly important, as well."
In regard to jobs created directly by the solar industry's growth, the installation field is especially desirable because, Luecke notes, "We're never going to outsource installation jobs or ship our houses to China to have solar panels installed."
Raina Russo, CEO and co-founder of EcoOutfitters.net, an online portal to learn more about solar savings and find local solar installers, says that successful solar marketing efforts are creating increasing opportunities in the job market, especially since the U.S. is a domestically-fueled society. "More and more people are seeing solar as a clean, renewable energy solution to the challenges we face in the years ahead. The price of electricity is only going to rise."
She continues, "The solar industry is about making a difference, being a leader, living responsibly, and doing what's right for your family, your community, your nation and your planet."
Solar Job Opportunities
Some of the entry-level opportunities available on the manufacturing side of solar include positions for material scientists, environmental engineers, electrical control engineers, quality assurance specialists, instrumentation electronics technicians and CNC operators. On the solar installation side, there are site assessors, control operators, CNC technicians, apprentices and mechanical assemblers. "Solar is the most labor intensive of the renewable energy industries," Luecke notes, "so there are many opportunities up and down the supply chain."
That doesn't mean it's easy to get a foot in the door. Luecke notes that employers she's spoken to say they receive an overabundance of applications for every job they post. "You have to go above and beyond the minimum education or experience requirements to compete," she advises. "We've experienced record-breaking growth and job creation, but the pool is still quite small compared to more established industries that may not be growing as quickly."
What It Takes to Get a Job in Solar
For entry-level positions, a high school diploma is almost always required, and some level of experience or training can set you apart from other applicants. Some high schools and technical schools offer solar installation training programs. Entering a solar associate or bachelor's degree program can give applicants the classroom education and real-world experience employers are seeking.
Russo concurs. "We're seeing that installers prefer to hire workers with formal training. Certification is very important, because even though a solar installation is one of the most non-invasive home improvements you can make, things can go wrong if solar panels are not installed by a trained professional."
Luecke agrees that on-the-job training is becoming less common. "The industry is growing so fast, employers don't feel it's in their best interest to incur the liability of training people; they expect candidates to have the skill and experience necessary."
She adds that the Sunshot Solar Career Map, an interactive 3D companion to the Census, provides information about wages, minimum and recommended degrees and career pathways for 36 different solar industry jobs.
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