The solar industry has had another banner year for job growth. According to the Solar Foundation’s 6th annual solar jobs census, over 35,000 new solar jobs were added in North America in 2015, bringing the total count of US solar jobs to over 208,000. This number represents a 20 percent increase from 2014, and 123 percent increase from 2010. One out of every 83 jobs created in 2015 across the whole United States was a solar job, meaning that 1.2 percent of national new job growth last year can be attributed to the solar industry. Put another way, the solar industry is creating new jobs approximately 12 times faster than any other industry in the US. 2015 was the third consecutive year to report similar results, showing a consistent trend.
Looking ahead, it is expected that solar jobs will continue to grow over the next several years as well. According to the census data, current solar employers are anticipating an increase to 239,625 solar jobs in the next twelve months alone, a 15 percent increase from the 2015 data. The newly extended solar investment tax credit (ITC) has given the industry a lot of confidence for 2016 and beyond. Greentech Media Research forecasted a 54 percent increase in solar installations as a direct result of the ITC extension through 2020.
Solar Jobs are Good Jobs
Unlike many other industries, solar creates local jobs that cannot be outsourced. The Solar Foundation found that wages were very competitive and provided domestic living-wage opportunities. Median wage data ranged from $21 per hour to $28.85 per hour, depending on the specific job segment. The majority of solar job growth was in the area of installation, with the demand for solar installers growing by nearly 24 percent. Other areas of growth were sales, management, administrative, and both demand side and utility scale project development. The only segment that did not experience growth was manufacturing, a trend mimicked in the construction industry.
The high demand for solar employees was matched by employers reporting it is “very difficult” to find and hire qualified solar employees. 23-26 percent of most segments (installation, sales, project development, etc.) reported difficulty finding qualified employees. What makes a person “qualified”? It turns out that experience is the most sought-after attribute, more so than formal education, with two-thirds of job openings asking for experience and only 35 percent requiring a bachelor’s degree. 10 percent required an associate’s degree. This represents a somewhat unique opportunity for employees to work their way up in a company without being held back because of a lack of a formal degree.
More Solar Jobs Than Oil, Gas
It is also interesting to note that the solar job growth puts the solar industry ahead of both oil and gas extraction job numbers. The oil and gas industries have often repeated the talking point that they “create local jobs” and are “good for local economies.” These numbers don’t add up. Oil and gas added a little over 10,000 jobs in 2015, while solar added over 35,000. For job seekers, it sounds like it might be time to brush up on your solar experience and training and go solar instead!