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SolarTech Workforce Innovations Collaborative: Finding the Right Employees for a Growing Industry

Source: Solutions

The rapidly growing solar industry boasts technology and products that are ready to provide clean energy and lower customers’ electric bills. In the past few years, we have seen advances in processes that knock down market barriers to scaling the sector. What it currently needs is a qualified, highly skilled workforce that can continue to move the industry forward. While the economic downturn might indicate an advantageous market for companies looking to hire, solar companies have often found difficulty in hiring.

Current workforce development programs have struggled to meet the challenge of finding employment for workers in this new and fast-growing industry. Solar employers have found a disconnect between the skills that they need from employees and the skills that these potential employees have learned.

In to this void has stepped the SolarTech Workforce Innovation Collaborative (SWIC). This is an industry-led partnership that applies an integrated and systematic approach to identifying, training and placing the right people for the right jobs at the right time to meet the specific needs of employers in the solar, energy efficiency and electric vehicle industries in California’s Bay Area.  This program, which is funded through a grant from the State of California, is a three-legged partnership between industry (SolarTech), training programs (Foothill De Anza Community College District (FHDA CCD) and talent services (the NOVA Workforce Board – a workforce development organization that works with the individuals to have them trained and ready to work).  SWIC has successfully bridged employers with trained candidates using innovative networking and hiring events and other pioneering practices.

Industry Voice

A key to the success of this program has been a strong industry voice through the trade organization, SolarTech.  SolarTech is a non-profit private/public consortium that drives the growth of solar energy at the state and local level. They provide best practices and implementation standards that make mass adoption of solar a reality. As part of this effort, SolarTech has led industry investigation and employer outreach efforts. Strong relationships and real time labor market data mining ensure a responsive program that can more ideally develop the right training at the right time to meet the needed skill demand without over building the labor supply.

SolarTech works with the solar industry to understand what skills and positions are most in need of getting filled, working with industry to coordinate the jobs that are being trained and finally, connecting talent with the industry. FHDA develops training for future needs, trains talent and adjusts training to meet new industry information. Finally, NOVA fills talent needs now, sends talent to training for future industry needs and lets industry know what talent is trained.

Three-Phased Program

These pieces fit together to create the Solar Workforce Acceleration Method (WAM). Solar WAM is a three-phased program that prepares talent for a position in the solar industry and creates a positive feedback loop that allows the system to be tweaked constantly to maximize benefit for all parties.

In phase one, SolarTech hosts symposiums and visits to employers to learn what jobs they need filled and to define these job requirements. In this phase, SolarTech works with solar manufacturers, installers, utilities, and technology support firms as well as workforce investment boards (WIBs). The NOVA Workforce Board serves as the link between vocational training, the community college, and the unemployed.

In phase two, future workers are given project-based, hands-on training development. Training programs are constantly refined in order to best serve the needs of industry. SolarTech produces frequent reports to help the refining process.

The final phase is job placement. SolarTech and NOVA work to promote training graduates with employers and with organizations like the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and the National Association of Board Certified Energy Practitioners.  Examples of this promotion have happened recently in Silicon Valley in California include:

Energy Efficiency Symposium Show Job Seekers The Green

In a unique open-dialogue setting that brought industry, educators and job seekers face-to-face, the SolarTech Workforce Innovation Collaborative (SWIC) combined forces with Ecology Action to conduct “The Future of Green Jobs: An Energy Efficiency Symposium.” Trained SWIC job candidates ready to step into any number of positions met in groups and one-on-one with hiring representatives from a number of San Francisco Bay Area employers and heard experts outline the depth and breadth of the energy efficiency job market. Following the day’s presentations, symposium participants either participated in on-site job interviews, or gathered at one of eight “table talks” that let job seekers hear directly from hiring professionals about what they’re looking for in successful candidates.

Harnessing the Power of the Sun for Real-Time Employer Connections

SWIC partnered with SunPower Corporation for Solar Partner Career Day (San Jose) providing job seekers with timely industry information and directly connecting them to hiring employers. SunPower presented job seekers a broad overview of the San Francisco Bay Area solar market and offered insights into open positions, occupational requirements, territory descriptions, and company culture.  SunPower staff provided on-the-spot resume critiques for job seekers and seven of SunPower’s solar dealer representatives connected directly one-on-one with job seekers.  As a result, many job seekers had interview pre-screens and landed strong job leads.

Success

The SWIC program is already seeing results. Over the past 18 months it has trained 255 unemployed professionals The program has helped place 126 people in jobs, and its coordinators expect those numbers to climb in the coming weeks. The program is close to reaching the 70 percent employment goal that was established by the State of California.

The model developed by SWIC has helped local solar and energy efficiency companies in the Bay Area cultivate the right type of workforce. Based on the findings of the program, it presents a number of best practices and standards that could become replicated in other jurisdictions around the country where there are specific demands to grow a clean technology sectors, but there is lack a supply of well-trained employees.