Don’t miss episode #1 of the new Power Players podcast, a series that shares exclusive insights and ideas from clean experts across the globe. IREC Vice President Laure-Jeanne Davignon joins Origis Services managing director Michael Eyman to discuss “Staffing for Solar Hypergrowth: The Clean Energy Workforce Challenge.” How will the industry create the nearly 1 million-person workforce needed for a 100% renewable energy future? Our Power Players discuss what companies and individuals can do to achieve their big goals.
MEET THE PLAYERS
How many workers does it take to create a paradigm shift? According to the recent solar jobs census released by SEIA, The Solar Foundation, and IREC, we will need more than 900,000 workers by 2035 to achieve the 100% renewable energy goals set by the Biden administration. “It’s a challenge that we all face in the industry, and it affects everyone across the board,” says Michael Eyman, managing director of Origis Services. Fortunately for us, workforce expert Laure-Jeanne Davignon joined Eyman on Origis Services’ first episode of the Power Players podcast to discuss how industries, companies, and individuals can rise to the challenge.
Laure-Jeanne Davignon is the vice president for Workforce Development at Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), managing oversight and strategic direction. As a professional who has lead standards development, innovated new training and certification programs, and provided thought leadership to organizations nationwide, Davignon has expert insight into industry-changing workforce development.
With more than 20 years of leadership and operations experience, Michael Eyman is leading the team responsible for Origis Service’s multi-gigawatt (and growing) solar and energy storage portfolio. With experience in both the US Navy and across the private sector, he knows firsthand the challenges and rewards of transitioning into renewable energy and building great teams.
PARTNERING OVER POACHING
“There’s no reason for someone to sit in an empty boardroom scratching their head,” says Davignon. And yet, because of competition, disconnection, and history, organizations too often face major challenges without the collaboration and brain power of the industry at large. When Eyman asked her what the major opportunities for workforce development are, Davignon’s first solution was “de-siloing”. More than just reducing duplicated effort, de-siloing will help us reshape the industry’s approach to workforce development and create more holistic and long-view solutions to rapid growth.
But what does de-siloing mean? Breaking down barriers: among clean energy, adjacent, and traditional energy industries; with organized labor; with trade associations; with schools and training programs; and yes, even with competitors. But not all these connections will be easy, as Eyman brought up. “So, how do you have those conversations, when the conversation starts with, ‘I’m here to take your people,’ or the conversation starts with, ‘You’re here to take my people.’ Now, how do we talk? How do you do that?”
The key is to think creatively and collaboratively. Davignon put it aptly: “[W]hen we do reach across the aisle, as it were, to these industries, again, the problems are going to be more similar than not. And even if they’re not like, ‘Here, take our workers,’ you may find areas of collaboration that you never imagined that could be very rich and rewarding for both sides.”
Developing these win-win relationships takes three steps, according to Davignon. First, prioritize. Identify the key occupations, skills, and regions that concern you. Second, target. Find industries and occupations that require the same or similar skillsets. Third, research. Although you can create your own consortium from scratch, there are many existing organizations whose efforts you can leverage to get quick wins.
TRAINING IN THE CLASSROOM AND ON THE JOB
Once you’ve won over great workers, the challenge continues: training. “I have a hard time finding standards that I can really apply,” says Eyman, “where the training is: already wrapped up, we’re doing it, it’s portable, every company sort of looking at it the same way, you know? There’s still quite a lot of OJT that happens today because those curriculums are just not well established.”
Again, de-siloing can help in creating standards not dependent on a particular manufacturer’s technology, but that’s not the only challenge, as Davignon well knows. “Good training is quite costly. IREC knows this because we produce really good training. And it takes a lot of bandwidth, it takes a lot of resources, and it takes a lot of subject matter experts to do it right.”
No one person or organization will solve training challenges; everyone has a responsibility and duty to bear. Trade associations, government agencies, and training programs have a role in creating technology and educational standards that are expertly designed and well communicated. Companies must embrace on-the-job training, ideally with formal internship, fellowship, or apprenticeship programs. Finally, individuals must do their own part, by actively shaping their career paths and adopting self-education as an ongoing effort.
ADVICE TO JOB SEEKERS
Though our Power Players heavily discussed how organizations can win the workforce race to renewable energy, at the end Eyman asked Davignon to address the individual: “I’m hoping that there are people looking to change careers, who will listen to this as well and look for it as a way to chart their path. . . . tell them how they can navigate this and what resources they have as individuals to help them figure out where they’re going to be, and how to get into this industry.”
(There turned out to be quite a few. See the links below to learn more about the resources our power players mentioned.)
To start, there’s IREC! IREC’s Solar Career Map breaks down common job roles across solar industries, skill levels, and career routes. This is great resource not just to understand the competencies, benefits, training, and timeline for entering a new occupation, but also to track career progression across roles with overlapping skills. IREC also has an online learning portal called CleanEnergyTraining.org, with both free and fee-based courses you can take at home. National solar job census data is available from The Solar Foundation.
Nationally, job seekers can connect to the Department of Labor, which is starting to invest in building clean energy resources, as well as NABCEP, the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, which provides solar and recently O&M certifications to individuals.
Finally, connect with companies, such as Origis Services, who are committed to delivering on the promise of clean energy to the country and the promise of clean energy jobs to skilled professionals.
With accelerating growth and international attention, the clean energy industry faces an immense challenge in finding, training, and retaining skilled and passionate professionals. All levels of the industry, from national organizations to individuals, will need to rise to the occasion. In their discussion of workforce development, Laure-Jeanne Davignon and Michael Eyman identified three major opportunities.
First, de-siloing the industry and creating strategic partnership to develop a consistent workforce pipeline. Second, creating well designed training programs to educate, inspire, and retain great people. Third, providing resources to individuals who are ready to embrace a career in clean energy.
Many thanks to host Michael Eyman and guest expert Laure-Jeanne Davignon for their insights and commitment to a clean energy future.