Careers series: How do I get a job in solar?

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While solar power is still a long way from becoming the world’s dominant energy supply, there are plenty of companies out there working to establish a presence in this burgeoning industry. To find out more about the types of jobs available in solar power, and how to go about landing one, we spoke to employees from a number of solar energy companies across the world.

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What kind of jobs are out there?

Unsurprisingly, a fast-growing field like solar energy offers plenty of job opportunities across many areas of the industry, from designing solar panels to marketing and selling solar products.

Calisolar marketing director Bret Adams says the kind of jobs available with his company vary across its three locations – Berlin, Ontario and California. The manufacturer, which produces solar silicon and high-performance multi-crystalline cells, employs research and development staff at its Berlin research centre, with a mix of entry-level to very experienced employees on the job.

Meanwhile, in Ontario, most of Calisolar’s employees work on manufacturing and tend to be experienced workers coming from the auto and metal foundry industries. “There are also a number of scientists and engineers, typically with strong metallurgy backgrounds,” Adams explains.

At its California headquarters, Calisolar also employs a number of highly skilled workers with semiconductor or auto manufacturing experience. “Engineers and scientists are needed at both entry level and highly experienced levels, often with advanced degrees,” Adams says. “There is a broad range of backgrounds for the engineers and scientists needed, including thin film, physics, material science, automation, mechanical, computer science, control systems, and yield management.”

As you might expect with such a diverse range of job opportunities, salaries in the solar industry vary, however the majority of jobs seem quite well compensated. An electrician working to install solar panels in Australia, for example, can earn AUD$80,000 per year in a full time role, or around $35 and $38 an hour in a more casual role. Even a cursory glance at some of the bigger job search engines show there are plenty of these roles available, along with many positions for solar panel salespeople. More technical roles for engineers are also available, although not quite as abundant, and do require degrees in areas such as electrical engineering or materials science.

How do I land one of these jobs?

As Adams’ explanation suggests, there are a wide range of qualifications that can lead to the various jobs available in the solar power industry. For engineering student Alistair McGrath-Kerr, who also works part-time at Australian solar power company Armada Solar, landing a job in the solar energy field was a matter of having the right qualification and a lot of determination. “I had no luck with any other engineering-related jobs I applied for and so when I got desperate, I emailed every solar energy company in Canberra that Google could find for me,” he explains.

“Qualifications-wise it is very diverse,” McGrath-Kerr says of employment in the sector. “There are a few engineers at our company, but a whole range of other qualifications too. There are people with business and accounting qualifications, along with marketing degrees, that take care of the office side of things, and then there are the installers.”

“The installers don’t need any particular qualification, but we do have someone who used to be a roof tiler working as an assistant to the team leaders,” McGrath-Kerr adds. “The team leaders have engineering degrees, and we have teams of electricians who work specifically on the electrical side of our work.”

Hanna Lunøe, global HR and IT systems coordinator for Scatec Solar, echoes McGrath-Kerr’s take on the wide range of qualifications that can lead to a job in solar energy.

“As a downstream solar company engaged in a broad set of activities ranking from developing projects, designing, constructing, operating and also in some cases owning the solar project, we need a large range of people with different skill sets,” says Lunøe. “Depending on our needs, we are interested in candidates with backgrounds from electrical engineering, architectural design, finance skills or project management knowledge.”

Lunøe adds that experience from the solar industry is always an advantage, but not a prerequisite. “Language skills are highly valued,” Lunøe adds, “as we see the solar markets shifting and knowledge of local language as important even if many of our functions are centralised.”

So is solar power the industry for you? According to McGrath-Kerr, a job in solar is perfect for anyone who loves being outdoors and wants the chance to undertake a diverse range of activities. “[I enjoy everything] from being a project manager to just doing simple everyday jobs like domestic quoting.” Even when pressed, McGrath-Kerr says he simply can’t think of any negative aspect to his work.

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