A Coordinated Approach to Clean Energy: A Recipe for Success Op-Ed Explainer

By Cynthia Finley

Using a smartphone allows two solar technicians to examine a diagram. (Credit: Jose Carlos Cerdeno)

Using a smartphone allows two solar technicians to examine a diagram. (Credit: Jose Carlos Cerdeno)

Several factors contribute to the increased demand for careers in clean energy. A complex combination of encouraging federal policies, funding support for employers and consumers, increased awareness and interest in energy efficiency, and advances in clean energy technologies create the ideal combination for an immediate need for workforce-development initiatives to help advance career pathways into clean energy.

Imagine a perfect pie crust without filling; that sounds like it is less appealing. Imagine pie filling with no crust; that’s certainly not going to hold up. Imagine a delicious pie with a perfect crust and filling, with your favorite ice cream melting on the dish, but no utensil with which to eat; everything you want but no way to access it.

Building a sustainable workforce pipeline into clean energy that is diverse, is equitable and meets the market demands requires the right partners, tools and aligned collaboration. Absent any of these ingredients, it is like a dessert that no one can eat or wants to eat.

Building a workforce strategy in clean energy is like constructing any recipe; start with the ingredients (data). What do stakeholders need to know? How many employees does the industry need? What does the current labor market look like? And where do employers find the millions more dollars needed to transition to a future of 100% clean energy? What is the first step?

According to the U.S. Economic Development Administration, workforce development strategies are crucial to economic development and should include many elements. Employers and community partners should be included for a more coordinated approach.1 That is a tall order even for the most well-coordinated programs.

Coordinating efforts is one of the essential takeaways from this list. Ensuring that players are aligned in their approaches can prove to be complicated. How can stakeholders implement successful workforce strategies that make a difference?

A successful strategic framework must include the following:

  • Understand the Clean Energy Landscape: Determining the trends in clean energy and the potential growth of new technologies will be important to establish a successful strategic workforce framework.
  • Assess Workforce Needs: Determining what occupations and skills will be required to fulfill those workforce demands will be key to developing a sustainable pipeline routing workers into growing job opportunities.
  • Educate and Train: Knowing where the training providers are in a state will help to provide a streamlined approach for job seekers to gain the skills they need that align with employer demands.
  • Build Awareness: The clean energy sector is fragmented across multiple industries. Creating public awareness campaigns, spotlighting career pathways and providing resources to help job seekers begin their journeys is essential.

A multifaceted approach that involves collaboration among various stakeholders will be necessary to develop robust sector strategies for the clean energy workforce. Where do industry stakeholders start to create this sustainable approach in their communities? It’s often not at the beginning. While the oven may be the last tool to finish a delicious recipe, it’s the first thing one preheats before beginning.

Understanding the Landscape: What Do We Need to Pay Attention to?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “employment of solar photovoltaic installers is projected to grow 22% from 2022 to 2032.”2 Keeping tabs on the federal landscape also provides clues that help predict solar-industry growth. The Inflation Reduction Act “will lead to transformative growth for solar and other clean energy industries.”3

According to Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s (IREC) 13th annual Solar Jobs Census, “For the first time, solar companies will have the option to use the Production Tax Credit, and new provisions allow new entities to take advantage, including churches, government entities, educational institutions, tribal nations and other nonprofits.”4

What Might Stand in Our Way?

Will recent changes to net metering in California or a rise in interest rates across the United States impact the projected growth? According to Michelle Davis, head of solar research at Wood Mackenzie, “The [United States] solar industry is on a strong growth trajectory, with expectations of 55% growth (2023) and 10% growth in 2024.”5

Wood Mackenzie noted that over the long term, “interconnection bottlenecks and transmission capacity may impact sustained growth.”6 This is something to keep an eye on. The data and statistics on workforce development are evolving. Knowing which data trends to focus on can be perplexing.

Assessing Workforce Needs: A Mixed Bag of Data

One minute, eggs are good for you, and the next, they aren’t. What do you do with conflicting labor-market data? Labor-market projections can help lay the foundation for your workforce needs. However, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and dig deeper. Developing relationships with employers adds the depth and breadth of information you need to prepare for workforce demands.

With labor projects determined, workforce stakeholders and employers can move on to conducting a gap analysis to determine what may be missing to meet industry needs.

Education and Training

Thanks to employer partners, the occupations are defined, the skills are assessed, the credentials are determined, and the timing of the workforce landscape has been studied; now, let’s get to the rest of our recipe needs.

The levels of experience for occupations can vary from employer to employer. IREC’s data on new hires in 20227 shows stark differences in the amount of training or credentials required across industry occupations.

It’s important to know what is expected to determine where our strategy may fall short. A gap analysis determines what training exists in our communities and what stakeholders and workforce partners may need to develop to fill the gaps. It is a critical next step in our recipe.

Ensuring There Is a Pathway

44% of solar industry employers said it was “very difficult” to find qualified applicants — the highest such percentage ever recorded in the Solar Jobs Census.8 How do employers and workforce stakeholders close this gap? Mapping out which occupations are in immediate demand and the required credentials or skill sets is an excellent place to start to give the job seeker a solid idea of their career path.

IREC’s solar career map9 illustrates the expansive options for career growth in the industry and the pathways to get there.

Are We Using the Freshest Ingredients? The Importance of Quality

So far, this strategy has identified the jobs and the skills required and has identified the training to meet those demands and established career pathways. But what about quality assurance? With a rapidly changing clean energy landscape, it will be vital for job seekers to receive training that is assured to meet industry standards and that prepares them for sustainability in the workforce.

Where do you begin to determine if training providers align with industry demands and provide quality training? Start by exploring who is accredited in the field.

We may be at the part of our recipe where we have an ingredient we aren’t sure we really need. Will it really make a difference to leave out this ingredient, which is sometimes hard to find? While I don’t think our recipe will be a complete failure without an accredited training provider, I definitely don’t think it will be winning any ribbons at the county fair.

Accreditation ensures that trainers are trained for specific job tasks. Conformity assessment tasks may include testing, inspection or certification.10 According to the IREC standard 14732:2014 Job Task Analysis Guidance Document, accreditation ensures training organizations are developing “job task analysis (JTA) from which to form the basis of their curriculum or syllabus,”11 but it’s also how employers know they are getting the freshest ingredients.

The New Face of the Workforce

Today’s workforce is multifaceted; the current generational span includes the Boomer generation (60-78) through Generation Z (7-22).12 With a large population beginning to age out of the industry or job seekers making career switches later in life, there is a learning curve for employers to properly support these changing dynamics and ensure company sustainability and growth.

Building Awareness

When our recipe is complete, workforce stakeholders started with a clean slate; brought in the experts (employers, educators, training professionals and community-based organizations); figured out what was needed to get cooking; used all of our best tools and ingredients; and followed each step through the very end. Now, how does the message get out to job seekers about this wonderful creation?

The clean energy-workforce space is energized (no pun intended), so many people are interested in and supporting the shift to clean energy. Here are a few resources to help you get started and build these integrated connections to organized labor, federal resources, employers, training providers and community-based organizations:

  • The National Clean Energy Workforce Alliance:13 a cross-sector effort to improve clean energy education, training and job-placement outcomes — and ensure that expanding clean energy job opportunities are inclusive of diverse candidates and underserved communities
  • Green Workforce Connect:14 a new workforce strategy from IREC working to create a central hub of clean energy jobs (https://greenworkforceconnect.org/), a new platform that connects job seekers and contractors to employers
  • Apprenticeships in Clean Energy (ACE Network):15 a network that leads a national coalition of industry, training and workforce development leaders to expand and diversify Registered Apprenticeship opportunities in the rapidly evolving clean energy sector
  • Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE):16 an association that provides educational leadership in developing a competitive workforce and strives to empower educators to deliver high-quality CTE programs that ensure all students are positioned for career success

Regardless of one’s seat at the table, whether as an employer, contractor, training provider or workforce stakeholder, communication is key to advancing the solar industry.

Employers are crucial, but quality education and training should be non-negotiable. Sustainability is linked to resources and career pathways. The plan isn’t just to get people jobs; the goal is to get people long-term careers that impact our growth opportunities. Let’s get cooking!


  1. http://tinyurl.com/aaz38ntb
  2. http://tinyurl.com/56w8jyss
  3. http://tinyurl.com/yc87a7dw
  4. http://tinyurl.com/4tjccunz
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. http://tinyurl.com/yc87a7dw
  8. Ibid.
  9. http://tinyurl.com/mrxnzd62
  10. http://tinyurl.com/35mys28c
  11. http://tinyurl.com/set9zyp7
  12. http://tinyurl.com/ev8c627b/
  13. http://tinyurl.com/ywj5de3f
  14. Ibid.
  15. http://tinyurl.com/y9d3zhsc
  16. http://tinyurl.com/3szcejte

About the Author

Cynthia Finley is the vice president of workforce and strategic innovation at IREC (Interstate Renewable Energy Council), where she leads the team in developing strategic initiatives to expand workforce development in the clean energy industry. She is committed to creating equitable career opportunities for underrepresented populations. She holds a doctoral degree in higher education.

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