Energy transition without skilled workers? The labor market situation in the solar industry
Germany’s ruling “traffic light coalition” has big plans: by 2030, according to the coalition agreement, there should be around 200 gigawatts of photovoltaic systems in the country. This is actually far below the "1.5 degree target" agreed on at the Paris climate agreement. So there is still a lot that has to happen in the field of solar energy. However, associations and industry representatives see a problem that could potentially condemn the entire energy transition to failure, and is surprisingly getting little political attention: the fact that there are not enough skilled workers available for the expansion of photovoltaic systems and other important elements of the energy transition.
Lack of skilled workers in the solar industry: The warnings of industry representatives
Twenty years ago there weren’t any courses or training available in the field of renewable energies, which is why the solar industry feared a shortage of skilled workers even then. Since that time a lot of changes have happened. Several universities now offer courses such as "Renewable Energies" or "Regenerative Energies" and there are training and further education courses for professions such as agricultural specialist for renewable energies/solar technology or technical assistant for regenerative energies.
And yet the forecasts are problematic: Benedikt Fischer, lecturer in regenerative energies at the HTW Berlin, predicts in a guest article in PV-Magazin a shortage of around 100,000 skilled workers for the energy-efficient renovation of houses. In the 2021/2022 winter semester, the number of registrations for the Regenerative Energies course at the HTW Berlin fell by almost half, the situation at other universities is similar, and many solar companies are in a challenging situation: They get more orders than they can handle, but they don't get workers with a university degree or a completed tradesman's training.
The author and lecturer calls for a political debate on this topic, as there is potential for the planned energy transition to be seriously endangered. Politicians must realize that securing skilled workers is a crucial task for the success of energy transition.
Industry representatives who have joined together in associations see it in a very similar way: The state association for solar energy in Rhineland-Palatinate and the association for business and the environment urgently recommend convening labor market conferences this year in order to counteract the growing problems – specifically the long waiting times for projects to be implemented due to a lack of staff . The Association for Electrical Engineering, Electronics and Information Technology (VDE) fears a shortage of around 100,000 electrical engineers in the next ten years, but they are also indispensable for the solar industry.
Approaches to solving the shortage of skilled workers in the solar industry
The industry representatives who deal with the problem of the shortage of skilled workers do not limit themselves to warning politicians and society of the consequences. They also offer many different solutions. Politicians and society must implement these.
More attractive design of the solar technology/craft professions
People who work in the photovoltaic industry are doing an important service to society: they are implementing the urgently needed energy transition. Nevertheless, the working conditions are often unattractive, especially when a skilled worker does not have an academic degree but has technical vocational training.
In order for more people to decide to pursue an (electrical) craft career, the professions must become more attractive: more flexible working hours, which have long been part of everyday life in other professions, are overdue, as is social recognition for essential professions. Tradespersons have lost their social standing in recent years, which is why many young people prefer to study rather than do a craft apprenticeship. The skilled trades must generally - across all sectors - experience a significant increase in value.
Recruitment of groups of people who have been neglected so far
There are groups of people with potential who have so far not been recruited enough. A good example of this are women, who are hardly represented in solar technology – especially among engineers and tradespersons. A targeted campaign could ensure that more women choose a career in the photovoltaic industry.
The conditions for the immigration of foreign skilled workers must also be improved. In addition, older people are valuable specialists with a lot of experience whose employment opportunities must be improved, for example through more part-time jobs, because full-time jobs are often no longer possible due to health reasons.
Retraining professionals from the old energy industry
The nuclear, gas and coal phase-out is underway. The people who work or have worked in these industries are professionals with valuable skills and basic knowledge that should be recruited to the photovoltaic industry. Retraining courses would provide them with the necessary specialist knowledge.
Improving science and mathematics education in schools
Young people need to be more enthusiastic about technical jobs. This can certainly be done through targeted campaigns, but above all through improving scientific and mathematical education in schools. Young people who have a fundamental understanding of science and mathematics and their value for society and themselves, and who understand “what” they are learning for are easier to encourage than students who only learn these subjects through memorization.