U.S. companies in clean energy are offering higher wages and better benefits. They also fly trainers overseas and consider buying electric repair shops and roofing to help their employees. This is all as they try to address a shortage of labor that could derail President Joe Biden’s efforts to combat climate change.
According to the White House, The Inflation Reduction Act was passed into law in January 2017. It provides subsidies for electric vehicles, solar, and wind of an estimated $370 million. These tax credits are available to American homeowners starting Jan. 1. They can use them for home heating upgrades or solar panel installation. According to a BW Research analysis, nearly 537,000 new jobs will be created each year over a period of ten years. This was according to The Nature Conservancy.
Companies fear they won’t be able to fill the jobs with a 3.5% unemployment rate in America, which is a historic low and plans to shift away from fossil fuels may also be stalled. The labor market is tight for jobs in clean energy, despite announcements of layoffs and indications that the economy may be slowing down elsewhere.
It feels like there is a lot at stake for the expansion. How are we going to find the right people? Abigail Ross Hopper is president of the Solar Energy Industries Association.
This shortage will be especially severe in the electric, battery, and solar panel production industries. Some companies have to try new ways to hire workers.
Korea’s SK Innovation Co Ltd makes the batteries for Ford Motor Co.’s F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck. It is located in Commerce, Georgia. The company has increased its pay and benefits, increasing from 4,000 to 20,000 today.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the battery manufacturer is paid between $20 and $34 per hour. This salary is higher than Georgia’s average hourly wage of $18.43. The plan sponsors of America report that it covers 100% of life insurance and matches retirement plan contributions up to 6.5%. This is higher than the 5.6% national average. The company also provides free meals on-the-job.
The talent pool in Georgia isn’t really large. We are working to enhance some of our policies in order to source and keep workers,” stated an SK official, who did not want to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the issue.
Officials from Georgia said that SK’s hiring was a success, considering the speed at which production needed to increase to fulfill its obligations to automakers.
SunPower Corp., a national residential solar company, is hiring aggressively. However, Peter Faricy, the Chief Executive of Faricy stated that they are also open to “crazy ideas,” which could include buying companies for their employees.
While I don’t think we should do it, I can give an idea of the magnitude of our considerations. So, for example, do we buy a roofing business and have them become all solar installers? Is it worth buying an electrical company to hire 100 electricians? He said.
SunPower has also been in talks with First Solar Inc., regarding developing a simpler solar panel, Faricy stated. This would allow crews to equip two homes per day, instead of one.
SunPower’s rival, Sunrun Inc. is using drones to inspect roofs before they are installed. This reduces the number of people required to climb roofs. The company also rewards top employees with parties at the office.
Chris McClellan (Sunrun’s senior vice-president of operations) said that “as best as you can gamify the experience for employees… it just makes this industry more fun, and more attractive.”
Orsted.CO, a Danish offshore wind developer that plans to build projects on the East Coast of the United States, is hoping to bring in workers from the United Kingdom or Asia as part of its training program. According to state reports, New York City and Massachusetts have large gaps in their offshore wind workforce.
Mads Nipper (CEO of Orsted) stated that they are creating an environment where there is more than an offshore wind academy. They also train future trainers.
Biden administration repeatedly stated that green jobs in renewable energy would not be union-paying.
According to BW Research’s 2021 study, many of these jobs are less lucrative than those in the fossil fuel sector. This is because clean energy companies seek to lower costs and compete with established industries. This is why the IRA aims to fix it by tying the prevailing wage requirements and apprenticeship requirements to subsidies.
These provisions, along with the challenges in hiring have put some employers under pressure to employ unionized workers.
Orsted, having learned from previous hiring difficulties in Europe and Asia has signed an agreement to hire workers with North America’s Building Trades Unions.
Amazon.com Inc., which has had to deal with disputes from workers who tried to organize, used union labor in order to construct the infrastructure for electric charging of its electric delivery vehicle fleet in Maspeth in Queens.
Amazon has not responded to our requests for comment.
Corrine Case is an electrician representing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. She claimed she received $43 per hour for installing the charging system at Amazon.
Case, a single mother said that she is excited by the increased demand for electricians who can install charging stations.
She said, “Our field constantly changes because of new energy sources. To be part of that is incredible.”
Solar, wind, and electric vehicle manufacturers have increased the number of programs that offer free or subsidized training for military veterans and women who were previously incarcerated.
SK said to Reuters it had been participating in military job fairs, American Legion chapters, and collaborating on programs such as the Georgia National Guard’s Work for Warriors program and Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America.
Some companies in the solar industry have attempted to hire veterans. They claim that their military skills are well-suited for the job.
Last year, Nextracker and Nextracker, a utility-scale solar developer, teamed up to support a program that only women can attend for solar installers. The week-long Colorado course was attended by more than 30 women.
The Virginia Department of Corrections and the non-profit Solar Hands-On Instructional Network of Excellence joined forces in October to launch a pilot program that will train 30 prisoners as well as recently released inmates in the installation of solar panels. David Peterson, director of SHINE, said that the group was considering expanding the program.
Grid Alternatives, a California nonprofit that trains inmates in solar installations at Madera County Jail has already trained 150 of them since 2017. It is now expanding the program to include other California facilities. Tom Esqueda from the nonprofit, who is the outreach manager for the organization, stated that potential employers will be more willing to hire former inmates if they know they’ve received training.
Homeboy Industries is a nonprofit that works with ex-gang members to rehab them. It uses solar panel installation opportunities to recruit for state-funded job programs. Each year, Homeboy trains between 50-60 individuals as solar panel installation specialists.
Jackie Harper, the coordinator of the program, said that more than 80% have been able to find jobs in solar energy after completing the training.
Marco Reyes (28), who was released from prison on February 28th, said that he would continue the program and now earns $23 per hour in Valencia, California as an installer.
Now, he plans to study the electrical side of solar installations. This would increase his salary.
He said, “Everyone can move up the ladder to a better job.” This job is life-changing for me.”
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