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Solar industry brings energy to hiring

Source: San Francisco Business Times

There’s plenty of opportunity for jobs in cleantech, especially for those with solar skills.

In the fourth quarter, there were 590 jobs listings for solar jobs in the Bay Area, and 326 jobs posted for energy efficiency, according to research by the SolarTech Workforce Innovations Collaborative.

Those hiring include companies that finance or install solar (or both) like SolarCity, SunRun, Sungevity, SunEdison, and Clean Power Finance, who will together hire more than 1,000 employees this year.

Unfortunately, the solar industry has also lost quite a few jobs in recent months. The collapse of Fremont-based Solyndra took with it 1,100 jobs. And that was followed by the bankruptcy of Solar Millennium, which had at least 150 employees when it declared bankruptcy. It’s unclear how many, if any, of those employees will keep their jobs.

But companies say they can’t find enough skilled workers to fill all jobs they have open.

SunEdison said, when it opened its new headquarters in Belmont in 2011, that it would hire 400. San Mateo-based SolarCity hired at a rate of more than one worker a day in 2011 and continues to hire like gangbusters.

So great is the need for skilled workers to fill these types of jobs, the state spent $19 million on grants to organizations that could design training programs for clean economy jobs. The SolarTech Workforce Innovation Collaborative received $4 million of that from the California Employment Development Department, and with it designed a soup-to-nuts training program offered through community colleges to train workers and place them with private industry. Partners in that collaborative included Foothill DeAnza Community Colleges, San Jose State University and NOVA Workforce.

For solar and energy efficiency companies, “it gives them a ready source of pre-screened, pre-trained talent skilled in what they’re looking for,” said Doug Payne, executive director of SolarTech, a solar industry association.

The collaborative offered seven courses, including in solar sales, energy efficiency marketing and sales, hybrid and plug-in vehicle technology and building science.

Though small, the program has worked, placing 85 of 199 trained students with employers in the Bay Area so far.

But with the grant money running out, and no hope for new grants, the groups behind the program hope government agencies and solar firms pony up to keep it going.

Today the program can train 30 to 35 prequalified students a month. And while about 10 companies have worked with the program to hire its trainees, Payne said he wants to triple that number as fast as possible.