SolarPower Europe’s latest EU Solar Jobs Report 2023 reveals that the solar workforce grew by 39% to 648,000 by the end of 2022, from 466,000 workers in 2021. With the number of solar workers growing rapidly, high quality skills must go together with large-volume recruitment. The third annual EU Solar Jobs Report brings forward earlier projections and predicts more than 1 million solar workers in the EU as soon as 2025. These workers will need to be capably-trained to deliver well-functioning and safe solar equipment and installations.
While analysis reveals significant growth trends in solar employment, challenges remain in understanding exactly where the gaps lie, and making sure that every solar worker has the right type and level of skills to deliver the energy transition. The report shares 7 policy recommendations to secure the solar workforce Europe needs:
National assessments of skills gaps
As mandated in REDIII, Member States must multiply efforts in identifying their gap in their workforce and skillsets. Currently, numbers for the lack of construction, roofing and electrical workers are incomplete and must be gathered by private initiatives. Governments should invest resources in this exercise, work on regular gathering of precise and regular information for each profession, and present it in a more harmonised manner, with other Member States. This is necessary to establish an European plan of action on European skills.
Communication & education campaigns on green collar jobs
European education policies in Europe valuing service careers and theoretical occupations are having long-term consequences on our ability to carry out the energy transition. The result is a structural lack of technical workers. A fundamental shift in education systems is needed. Governments should better communicate on green job needs and training opportunities. More profoundly, manual careers need to be better valued among students and job seekers, as socially valued careers with perspective of development.
The communication campaign shall not only address potential students or trainees, but also aim at mobilising the ecosystem of green skills that is too often unaware of the opportunities in the sectors and does not have access to the right resources: education professionals, public and private employment platforms, VET providers, local and regional authorities. Teaching at technical schools should be valued appropriately according to its strategic importance, bridges must be built between theoretical and technical education platforms as well, to enable the movement of students from university to VET/STEM, and apprenticeships should be valued in those various streams.
Specialised training for relevant professionals
Two major kinds of professionals are usually needed for rooftop solar installations: qualified electricians for the design, grid connection and supervision of projects, and construction workers (or more specifically roofers) for the mechanical work (installing mounting structures and modules). As the solar sector needs numerous capable hands to install a rising number of solar projects accelerating the training of both those professions to the craft of solar installation is needed.
When it comes to construction workers, more specialisation will lead to workers that are better equipped to carry out numerous installations while maintaining high levels of quality and safety, for what can be considered a new and rising sub-sector for them. On the electrician’s side, apprentices should be encouraged to carry out solar PV training under the supervision of electricians, during their years of studies, to ensure they also have the necessary skills to work on residential, commercial and public roofs. Soon to be established Net-Zero Academies can help developing appropriate learning content for those skill needs.
Retraining programmes around the needs of the just transition
A number of solar professions (such as solar construction worker or roofer) are accessible through retraining – and a number of workers had a past life before joining the industry. Lifelong training should encouraged and facilitated for workers, particularly in transitioning industries. Appropriate programmes should be developed and incentivised to prioritise workforce reconversion in the jobs needed for the clean energy transition, and in particular in areas economically affected by the climate transition. In particular, private retraining actions can be supported by the public, through financing support or practical support.
In addition, the solar industry is evolving fast. Solar panels are evolving, solar inverters are increasingly digitalised, and electric vehicles or heat pumps are coming with new opportunities for building-level connection. To keep up with the technology developments, electricians and installers must be able to access the right upskilling programmes, in close cooperation with manufacturers. The Net-Zero Industry Academies have a role to play there.
Skill-proof all energy policies
Solar PV deployment in the next years will be heavily impacted by the availability of the right skills and workers to conduct the necessary works. Skill-proofing energy policies becomes more and more relevant to the energy transition. Integrated renovations of buildings can be promoted through smart subsidy schemes (for instance, in several countries, asbestos removal programmes are coupled with a subsidy for solar panel installations, coupling two roof works in one) or through improved access to information (for instance, several countries have tested information points proposing to citizens an early diagnosis of the potential for renovations, encouraging citizens to carry out coupled renovation works and Heat Pump / EV / PV installation). Planning and local authorities play here a role thinking building renovation and electrification together.
Cross-border recognition of skills
Governments must ensure the mutual recognition of qualifications for electricians and installers under the Services Directive and the Renewable Energy Directive. In the longer term an EU-wide certification standard for electricians should be developed, establishing a common nomenclature of electrical engineering skills and a common basis of skill requirements. The EU can also facilitate the posting of solar workers across countries, for instance by creating national enabling contact points. Those authorities should be aware of the political urgency of these procedures, and be tasked with accelerating them.
Integrate the solar sector’s needs into existing immigration policies
Finally, the EU must support the growth of the solar sector by facilitating the entry of workers from third countries. Talent Partnerships and the EU Talent Pool, if applied with the right focus and resources, could steer legal migration to strategic sectors. Solar PV, as a key sector for Europe’s geopolitical, economic, and environmental challenges, should be central to such mechanisms.
© Enel Green Power
EU Solar Jobs Report 2023