TradingTwist, 11 January – U.S. clean energy companies are attempting to overcome a labor shortage that threatens to derail President Joe Biden’s climate change agenda by improving wages and benefits, bringing in trainers from abroad, and considering ideas like buying roofing and electric repair shops just to hire their workers.
According to the White House, the Inflation Reduction Act, which was enacted last year, provides for a projected $370 billion in solar, wind, and electric vehicle subsidies. American households can start using these tax credits on January 1 to improve their home heating systems or install solar panels on their roofs. According to a study conducted by BW Research under contract with The Nature Conservancy, those investments will generate close to 537,000 jobs annually for a decade.
Companies, however, assert that they worry they will find it challenging to fill those positions and that efforts to transition away from fossil fuels may falter given that the unemployment rate in the United States is at a historic low of 3.5%. Although there have been layoff announcements and other indications of a slowdown in the economy, the labor market for renewable energy jobs is still competitive.
“It appears that this growth is fraught with danger. Where are all the people going to be, anyway? “asked Abigail Ross Hopper, head of the trade organization Solar Energy Industries Association.
The manufacture of electric vehicles, batteries, solar panels, and home efficiency systems is predicted to be particularly badly hit by the shortfall, requiring some businesses to adopt innovative new hiring strategies.
“The skill pool in Georgia is not particularly large. However, we are working to make certain of our procedures better in order to better source and keep employees, according to an SK executive who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the subject. When you consider how quickly manufacturing had to ramp up to meet the company’s obligations to automakers, Georgia state officials thought the employment of SK was a success.
While SunPower Corp (SPWR.O), a leading national residential solar installer, is actively hiring, Chief Executive Peter Faricy said the company is also considering what he called “crazy ideas” to secure personnel, such as buying other businesses specifically for their employees.
“I’m not proposing that we take this action, but I wanted to give you a sense of the scope of what we’re thinking about.
For instance, should we buy a roofing business and turn them all into solar installers? “Should we purchase an electrical firm and hire 100 electrician workers?” he asked.
In the past year, SunPower and First Solar Inc (FSLR.O), a maker of solar panels, also discussed the development of a solar panel that would be simpler to install and allow teams to outfit two homes each day rather than just one, according to Faricy.
Sunrun Inc (RUN.O), a rival of SunPower, uses drones to assess roofs before installation, minimizing the number of personnel needed to mount roofs. Office parties are sometimes used to celebrate the best teams.
“As much as you can, game-if the work experience… it just makes the industry more entertaining and appealing,” Sunrun’s senior vice president of operations, Chris McClellan.
Orsted (ORSTED.CO), a Danish offshore wind developer, intends to fly in staff from projects in the United Kingdom and Asia to aid with staff training. Orsted is planning to build projects off the East Coast. According to state data, there are significant personnel shortages for offshore wind in New York and Massachusetts.
The CEO of Orsted, Mads Nipper, told that “we’re kind of developing an environment where we don’t just have an offshore wind academy, but genuinely train the trainers of the future.”
The Biden Administration has frequently pledged that new union jobs in green energy will be well-paying.
According to a 2021 study by BW Research, however, many of those positions have paid less than those in the fossil fuel sector as renewable energy companies have worked to keep prices down in order to compete with established sectors. By connecting prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements to the subsidies, the IRA aims to address that.
Some firms are under pressure to hire unionized employees because of those laws and the difficulties in hiring.
Orsted inked a contract with the Building Trades Unions of North America in order to secure workers after learning from its prior hiring difficulties in Europe and Asia.
Even Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), a corporation that has run into issues with employees trying to form a union, employed union labor to construct the Maspeth, Queens, New York, electric charging infrastructure for its fleet of electric delivery cars. An inquiry for comment from Amazon was not answered.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ Corrine Case, an electrician, claimed that Amazon paid her $43 per hour to install the charging infrastructure.
Mother-of-one Case expressed excitement about the increased employment stability provided by the demand for electricians to install charging stations.
Because of new energy sources, she said, “our area is continuously changing, and to be a part of it is great.”
WORKERS TRAINING FOR FREE
Companies that produce solar, wind, and electric vehicles have increased programs that provide free and discounted training to women, former, inmates, and service members as they look for new Workers.
According to SK, it has been hiring at American Legion chapters and military job fairs, as well as working with initiatives like the Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America and the Georgia National Guard’s Work for Warriors.
Some solar companies have made an effort to hire veterans, claiming that the abilities acquired in the military are transferable to the sector.
In order to sponsor a training program for solar installers that are exclusively for women, utility-scale solar developers SOLV Energy, SunPower, and Nextracker last year joined forces with the non-profit Solar Energy International.
The training in Colorado lasted a week, and more than 30 ladies participated.
In October, the Virginia Department of Corrections and the organization Solar Hands-On Instructional Network of Excellence (SHINE) collaborated on a pilot project to train 30 prisoners and recently released offenders in solar panel installation. According to David Peterson, director of SHINE, the organization is debating extending the initiative.
Since 2017, the nonprofit organization Grid Alternatives in California has educated 150 inmates at the jail in Madera County in solar installation, and this year it is expanding its program to include more prisons throughout the state. According to Tom Esqueda, outreach manager for the group, prospective employers are more willing to hire people who have served time behind bars after learning that they have received some training.
The potential employment prospects for solar panel installers are being used by the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Homeboy Industries, which works to rehabilitate ex-gang members, to aid in the recruitment of new employees for its state-funded jobs program. Each year, Homeboy offers solar panel installation training to 50–60 persons.
According to Jackie Harper, who is in charge of the program, more than 80% of those who underwent the training in the previous year obtained employment in the solar industry.
Marco Reyes, 28, who completed the program after being released from jail in February and makes $23 per hour as an installer in Valencia, California, said, “I’m going to be staying with this.”
His compensation would increase if he trained in the electrical side of solar installation.
Everyone has the opportunity to climb the ladder and land in a better position, he remarked. “This job has changed my life,” you said.