There are few industries growing as quickly as solar energy. And with rapid growth comes opportunity.
Wisconsin’s emerging solar industry has been adding jobs at a rapid pace in recent years and even grew last year despite the global pandemic. The state’s employment rose to nearly 3,000 workers, according to the 2020 National Solar Jobs Census, a yearly report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, The Solar Foundation and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.
Among the groups working to extend the solar industry in Wisconsin is the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, a clean energy group that trains about 1,000 people a year in techniques they’ll need in a career in the solar industry.
Nick Hylla, MREA’s executive director, said because the industry is still emerging in Wisconsin, there are various paths that students can take to start their career in renewable energy.
“Everybody wants workers right now,” Hylla said. “The way you set yourself up for a good career is through certification in energy efficiency, green building or the electrical sphere. The other thing that matters is doing a good job and working hard.”
Typically, most people enter the solar industry through one of three paths. Workers may start out in solar installation, a job that combines electrical and roofing techniques to install solar panels on a clients’ roof. These positions are in high-demand and typically pay well.
Also in demand are people who work in a support role for solar installation. This could mean people in the sales department at a solar installation company or people who procure materials and manage job sites. There are also opportunities to become an electrician. Because solar panels generate power, expertise in electrical systems is indispensable, Hylla said.
People may also get into the industry by obtaining credentials that show they have the knowledge and experience to work in the solar industry. MREA conducts a yearly training course, called its Solar Training Academy, meant to prepare students to take the NABCEP PV Associate exam, which is commonly relied on by employers.
The organization has also sought to reach underserved populations through a scholarship program that provides solar-design and installation training. MREA’s Rise Up program last year trained 37 students in three cities in the Midwest, including Milwaukee, on fundamentals meant to prepare them to earn credentials.
“The Rise Up Scholarships are a small step toward making sure clean energy investments create jobs where they are needed, and that the benefits of local clean energy investments do not skip over areas with persistent underemployment and historically low participation in energy efficiency and clean energy programs,” Hylla said.