This map always raises lots of great questions. Many can be answered by explaining the general principles that underly its content and organization. Read on.
Where are the architects? The finance experts? The performance engineers? And what about the firefighters, the real estate agents, the energy auditors, and the many others whose work intersects with the solar industry?
They are busy building our solar future. We just didn't have room for all of them here.
The enormously complex solar energy industry comprises many more occupations than a single web tool can reasonably depict. So a team of national experts selected forty illustrative occupations to map. They saw value in attempting to show a distilled, representative whole. Not every job on the lattice is exclusively or even primarily a solar job. But each one requires some training in solar-specific skills. And each one is in some way essential to building a robust, high-quality, solar industry.
Do these occupations offer full-time work in the solar industry?
Not necessarily. In fact, not every job on the map devotes even the majority of its effort to solar-related work. Building inspectors may spend a fraction of their time on solar-related reviews, but the quality of their solar-specific training is critical to the safety, growth, and success of the industry. And not everyone working in the solar industry has a “solar job” per se: Plumbers, for example, install solar hot water systems, and manufacturing technicians produce solar components. They are trained first, and primarily, as plumbers and technicians. Solar product or system expertise follows. This fluidity, though sometimes confusing to those trying to pin down a “solar job,” has a some clear advantages. Workers develop broad occupational skill sets in addition to solar competence, allowing them to better weather fluctuating energy and labor markets. Institutions can integrate solar skill training into existing programs, rather than trying to establish expensive and often unnecessary stand-alone solar programs.
How many solar jobs are there?
It depends on how you count them.
The best source is the annual jobs census produced by The Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. (IREC), National Solar Jobs Census.
*The National Solar Jobs Census was original produced by The Solar Foundation. The Solar Foundation merged with IREC in 2021 and now IREC carries on this important work.
Where are the job listings?
This tool was not designed as a jobs bank. The map is not tied to any specific employers, and in no way guarantees a career progression. The US Department of Labor and many states offer online tools that match occupations, skills, and interests with specific training and employment opportunities.
How precise is the wage data?
It is notoriously difficult to secure accurate wage data for particular occupations in particular emerging industries. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) aggregates some solar data; the national median wages listed in this tool derive primarily from 2014 BLS data for related occupations across all industries. Pay can vary tremendously by region and industry. State-level wage ranges can be explored via O*NET (The USDOL Employment and Training Administration’s Occupational Information Network) wage and employment trends for each occupation.
What is the “preferred” education and training level?
There are many education and training paths into most of the jobs in this career map. The tool includes the minimum qualifications typically required for the job, as well as the preferred skill-level or credential — what would be most attractive to employers, and most conducive to building a safe, high-quality solar industry. Education and skill attainment are identified by one or more of the following: Certification; Licensure; Apprentice-, Journey- or Master-level; High-school diploma (or equivalent) or Post-Secondary credential; Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or Postgraduate degree.
Does certification matter?
One way to ensure quality and measure competence in a solar workforce, no matter the individual education or training path followed, is third-party personnel certification. Based on voluntary, industry-validated skill-standards, certification documents a worker’s current knowledge, skills and abilities, rather than their completion of a particular program. Many of the occupations in this solar career lattice have certification options specific to the core trade or profession.
Are these realistic career pathways?
We purposely called them routes rather than pathways. Some of the transitions in the multi-sector solar career routes imply enormous advances in skill, credentials, and education; they offer a birds-eye guide to affinity and potential. Consult with community colleges, workforce boards, apprenticeship councils, or regional training partnerships for career pathways that articulate the detailed intermediate sequences of work and learning — combined, where necessary or possible, with supportive services — entailed by the global routes plotted here.
Why aren’t there more entry level jobs?
Career routes in the solar industry don’t necessarily progress from the bottom to the top of the map. Workers at mid- and advanced levels may enter the solar industry via lateral pathways that add solar training to a traditional occupation (e.g., electrician, lawyer, engineering technician). There are a number of groups doing excellent work to build bridges and on-ramps for low-skill, low-income workers seeking to enter solar career routes. In general, however, solar skill sets tend to be fairly advanced, requiring significant math, reading and technical competence.
Shouldn't my job be located in a different sector or skill level?
Probably. Many of these job titles could appear in more than one sector. Indeed, the very nature and scope of a given job may change depending on firm size and market segment (e.g. residential, commercial, industrial, or utility). A small-scale residential installer might also be doing assessment, sales, and system design.
And some of these jobs, depending on the individual, the company, and the labor market, could appear in many positions up and down the skill axis. An electrician can practice at apprentice, journey, or master level; an engineer with a bachelor’s degree may be practicing at an "entry level" for her field; sales positions range from entry-level assistants to highly-skilled technical experts.
Whatever the designated level of a job title on this map, most occupations include a wide range of skill levels, and could sit higher or lower on the y-axis. As solar technology rapidly evolves, workers in all positions will need to update their skills through continuing education or on-the-job-training, and in many cases could benefit from professional certification.
Some of this potential variation is addressed in the full job descriptions. A manageable tool can capture an accurate snapshot of the real world, but not its vicissitudes.