With the rapid pace of solar energy deployment, solar installer is one of the fastest growing jobs in the country. However, nearly 90% of solar companies reported difficulty hiring in 2021, citing lack of experience, training, or technical skills as one of the biggest reasons. As the need for qualified solar professionals grows, so does the need for colleges to connect students and recent graduates with work experience, networking, training courses, and other career development opportunities in solar energy.
With $800,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) in 2018, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), a non-profit organization working to expand renewable energy adoption in the Midwest, developed programs to grow Wisconsin’s solar workforce capacity and replicated their successful programs in surrounding states. MREA’s Solar Ready Wisconsin initiative works with a network of leading technical colleges in the Midwest to develop training curriculum and facilitate site-based training, entry-level work experience, and job placement for newly-trained professionals.
One of MREA’s courses helps students get North American Board of Certified Energy Professionals (NABCEP) certification, a highly desired qualification for many solar employers. The course is particularly useful to those entering the workforce for the first time and allows students to upload credentials and training certificates. Community college students reviewed the course and provided feedback to make sure it was meeting the needs of its target audience. MREA also developed a virtual learning series that provides NABCEP-recognized continuing education credits.
Alongside their curriculum, MREA launched solarenergy.jobs, an online marketplace for clean energy jobs across the Midwest that connects aspiring solar professionals with local solar contractors. This alignment of regional training opportunities with local employers creates a strong pipeline of new solar professionals with the right set of skills to excel in these jobs. The site also serves as a hub for regional training opportunities, including at MREA and participating community colleges. MREA also added a solar career fair to their annual MREA Energy Fair to connect college partners and solar companies.
As of 2022, the Solar Ready Wisconsin network has grown from a few schools in Wisconsin to 16 technical and community college partners in 4 states, with several more colleges expected to join the network next year. The program has so far placed 34 interns in 160-hour internships with solar companies. Twenty-seven of these interns went on to get jobs with 9 partnering contractors.
MREA’s Solar Ready Wisconsin project aimed to provide renewable energy education and training that is responsive to evolving energy issues, empowering for aspiring and early-career solar professionals, and locally accessible. They plan to share their success with other like-minded organizations, recognizing that the industry is stronger when we all work together towards a common goal.