The Solar Career Lattice is the product of a national working group and affiliated experts, including representatives from industry, education, government, labor, and the NGO community. The working group was convened by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council in its capacity as the National Administrator of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Instructor Training Network.
What is the vision underlying it?
High-quality work and high-quality jobs are critical to building a robust, high-quality solar industry. Many people still think of solar energy jobs in terms of roof-top installation, and of the solar industry in terms of bottom-line costs. This tool offers a more nuanced vision. By mapping a broad spectrum of careers across the solar industry, the lattice prompts instructors, policy-makers, and job-seekers to consider a wide variety of occupations accessible to workers with a wide variety of skill and experience. And by describing the demands of an entire value chain, the tool builds a strong case for investing in better solar skill delivery.
Where are the architects? The sheet metal workers? The project engineers? And what about the technical college instructors, the energy auditors, and the many others whose work intersects with the solar industry?
The enormously complex solar energy industry comprises many more occupations than a single web tool can reasonably depict. But there is tremendous value in attempting to show a distilled, representative whole, rather than immediately specializing by sub-sector, and building a segmented, ungainly lattice that tells no story well. A team of national experts selected three dozen illustrative occupations to map. Not every job on the lattice is exclusively or even primarily a solar job. But each one requires some training in solar-specific skills. And each one is in some way essential to building a robust, high-quality, solar industry.
Do these occupations offer full-time work in the solar industry?
Not necessarily. In fact, not every job on the map devotes even the majority of its effort to solar-related work. Building inspectors may spend a fraction of their time on solar-related reviews, but the quality of their solar-specific training is critical to the safety, growth, and success of the industry. And not everyone working in the solar industry has a “solar job” per se: Plumbers, for example, install solar hot water systems, and manufacturing technicians produce solar components. They are trained first, and primarily, as plumbers and technicians. Solar product or system expertise follows. This fluidity, though sometimes confusing to those trying to pin down a “green job,” has some clear advantages. Workers develop broad occupational skill sets in addition to solar competence, allowing them to better weather fluctuating energy and labor markets. Institutions can integrate solar skill training into existing programs, rather than trying to establish expensive and often unnecessary stand-alone solar programs.
Why aren’t there any management positions?
Many if not all of the job titles in this solar career map could advance to supervisory or management positions. These transitions are not mapped as separate linked job titles, but indicated within the full job description. While it can be argued that every player in the solar value chain – including and perhaps especially managers — needs some specific solar expertise, the additional skill set enabling such promotions would likely be particular to the occupation (i.e. management) rather than the industry (solar energy).
Shouldn’t Job X or Job Y be located in a different sector or skill level?
The map is a guide, not a monolith. Many of these job titles could appear in more than one sector. Indeed, the very nature and scope of a given job may change depending on firm size and market segment (e.g. residential, commercial, industrial, or utility). A small-scale residential installer might also be doing assessment, sales, and system design. And some of these jobs, depending on the individual, the company, and the labor market, could appear in many positions up and down the skill axis. An electrician can practice at apprentice, journey, or master level; an engineer may have a bachelor’s or postgraduate degree; sales positions range from entry-level assistants to highly-skilled technical experts. Some of this potential variation is addressed in the full job descriptions. A manageable tool can capture an accurate snapshot of the real world, but not its vicissitudes.
Labor Market Information
Where can I find more specific wage data?
It is notoriously difficult to secure accurate wage data for particular occupations in particular “green” industries. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is just starting to gather this information. The national median wages listed in this tool derive primarily from BLS data for related traditional occupations across all industries. Pay can vary tremendously by region and industry. For the non-technical data seeker, state-level wage ranges can be explored via O*NET (The USDOL Employment and Training Administration’s Occupational Information Network) wage and employment trends for each occupation.
Why does the tool list O*NET rather than SOC codes?
The O*NET references in many cases overlap with SOC (Standard Occupational Classification) codes. O*NET listings are more friendly to non-technical inquiries, focus on characteristics of occupations and workers, and link directly to the BLS Occupational Handbook. Experts who want to run their own numbers will have no problem navigating cross-walks to SOC codes and their associated BLS data sets. Both sets of tools have only just begun to codify and measure renewable energy jobs.
How many solar jobs are there?
It is hard to secure accurate, timely, occupational information on a rapidly evolving industry that cross-cuts multiple sectors. It is certainly beyond the scope of this tool to do so. Education, training, and workforce development professionals need targeted regional data, which can be accessed through state departments of labor or local workforce intermediaries (e.g., Workforce Investment Boards, technical colleges, training or industry partnerships, etc.) Major national efforts to gather and unpack data around solar jobs include recent studies by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and The Solar Foundation.
Does this tool identify current job opportunities?
The career mapping tool was not designed as a jobs bank. It is not tied to any specific employer, and in no way guarantees a career progression. For individual job-seekers, there are a number of related DOL tools under development that match occupations, skills, and interests with specific training and employment opportunities, including, e.g., My Skills My Future and My Next Move.
Education and Training
Why aren’t there more entry level jobs?
Career routes in the solar industry don’t necessarily progress from the bottom to the top of the lattice. Workers at mid- and advanced levels may enter the solar industry via lateral pathways that add solar training to a traditional occupation (e.g., electrician, lawyer, engineering technician). There are a number of groups doing excellent work to build bridges and on-ramps for low-skill, low-income workers seeking to enter solar career routes. In general, however, solar skill sets tend to be fairly advanced, requiring significant math, reading and technical competence. See, for example, the Energy Industry Competency Model developed by the Center for Energy Workforce Development.
Are these realistic career pathways?
We purposely called them routes rather than pathways. Some of the transitions in the multi-sector solar career routes imply enormous advances in skill, credentials, and education; they offer a birds-eye guide to affinity and potential. Consult with regional training partnerships for career pathways that articulate the detailed intermediate sequences of work and learning — combined, where necessary or possible, with supportive services — entailed by the global routes plotted here.
What is the “preferred” education and training level?
There are many education and training paths into most of the jobs in this lattice. The tool includes the minimum qualifications typically required for the job, as well as the preferred skill-level or credential — what would be most attractive to employers, and most conducive to building a safe, high-quality solar industry. Education and skill attainment are identified by one or more of the following: Certification; Licensure; Apprentice-, Journey- or Master-level; High-school diploma (or equivalent) or Post-Secondary credential; Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or Postgraduate degree.
Does certification matter?
One way to ensure quality and measure competence in a solar workforce, no matter the individual education or training path followed, is third-party personnel certification. Based on voluntary, industry-validated skill-standards, certification documents a worker’s current knowledge, skills and abilities, rather than their completion of a particular program. Many of the occupations in this solar career lattice have certification options specific to the core trade or profession. The mapping tool links to a selection of those particular to renewable energy.
Isn’t solar energy expensive enough, without adding skilled labor – and costly training – to the mix?
A poorly trained workforce costs more in the long run. Safety, efficiency, and quality aren’t just values; in the solar industry, they create value. The goal is threefold, as is the means for achieving it: quality work (safe and effective products, installations, operations); quality jobs (healthy and prosperous communities); and a successful domestic solar industry (economic growth and an affordable clean energy future).