Big challenges for Solar Industry: Hiring, Training, and Retaining Solar Technicians
Updated: Jun 9, 2022
Hiring, training, and retaining solar technicians is a challenge many companies in the solar industry face. “This topic is one that I take a great deal of interest in as I have worked as a technician and have worked with thousands of other technicians over the decades in many different lines of business,” says Wayne Williford-VP of Operations.
Technicians come in all forms of capability and motivation, and in my experience, one characteristic that defines all great technicians is desire. The challenges that most technicians face daily almost always involve problem-solving, and often, the attempt at solving one problem leads to the discovery of one or more issues that also need to be resolved. Desire and tenacity, along with analytical ability and a strong sense of safety, go a long way.
The hiring process should always include verifying the candidate's experience and ability to complete work safely, independently, and collaboratively. The following interview practices are a great start to that end:
Ask for specific examples of relevant skills. Is troubleshooting a developed skill that they have? Where did they learn that?
Ask what types of tools and certifications the candidate is experienced with or has.
Ask if the candidate works best alone or with a team. Have they had to train others to do their job? Did you like that process? Why or why not?
And then the most important question. What motivates you to work as a technician in this industry? Why do you like it?
These questions will hopefully open a dialogue that gives the prospective employer an opportunity see what the candidate understands about the challenges of technical work and if that matches what is needed for this position. Of course, there are other important qualities that are vital, such as a positive attitude, and the capacity to listen and communicate. These characteristics are requirements when hiring any employee and especially important when selecting a technician.
Training for technicians should begin on day one of employment and needs to cover more than just product and technical processes. Company expectations need to be described and explained thoroughly and no shortcuts should be taken to set expectations while onboarding your new employee. With those expectations set, a training schedule needs to be implemented so both the company and new technicians can track and measure the required technician training topics. Of course, safety is the most important topic and that should always be re-occurring and automatic for all technicians.
Safety should certainly cover the company and customer product and systems, as well as personnel. There are many sources for safety training available. A wide variety of courses are available online and in-person and it's imperative that all technicians and managers are current and up to date. If your company has a Health and Safety representative this is typically the best and most immediate source for comprehensive health and safety training.
Specific industry training for technicians is also important for many reasons. So often technicians are hired because they have experience as a technician at another company or industry and that is what gets them in the door. What many technicians and employers quickly find out is that even though the technician has worked somewhere else successfully, they lack the specific knowledge to come up to speed quickly and effectively without focused training.
As a technician in my past working career, I had the opportunity to work at a company that took extraordinary measures to assure training and competence. Often the training was weeks or even months in duration and refresher training was always required as a follow-up. If possible, pairing a new technician with an experienced technician who is willing and capable to help train them is valuable beyond measure. This On–The–Job- Training (OJT) needs to have defined topics for product and process and for a specific term. I know this sounds like it may be impossible for a smaller company to carry this out but investing in your technician's training does more than the obvious. A training program or plan also shows the new employee that you value them and their development at your company. This nearly always translates to higher employee satisfaction and performance, while helping with customer relations and eventually the bottom line.
Over the last couple of decades solar has grown beyond most expectations and with that has come the need for new technicians. The work these new technicians need to perform has continued to encompass many new technologies. A solar technician working in the industry in the year 2001 would not have had the same challenges and requirements one has today. Many new inverter and communications products, the proliferation of the internet, web-based applications, and drones just to mention a few, have increased the skills needed by a solar technician.
On the commercial side of the solar industry, the requirements are changing on what seems to be a daily basis with no signs of that slowing down. This means that a solar technician needs to be highly versatile with many skills to be valuable in today’s world.
All solar companies need trained, skilled, and competent technicians. Their value cannot be understated or ignored and more focus on this is needed to assure our industry is able to support this continually emerging technology and trade. With the volatility of the solar industry, it has become obvious that technicians don’t typically stay at one company for more than a few years.
So how do we keep these valuable technicians that we have trained and depend on so much?
Effective hiring and training will certainly help with technician retention but the elephant in the room is employee recognition. All employees want to feel valued and recognized and as this industry continues to grow, understanding and showing the employee and the industry how much, we value them needs to be part of every solar company’s process. Of course, we are talking about compensation, but also in the form of the review process and supervisor feedback. As an industry, we need to value and tell our technicians how much we need and appreciate them.
Day Electric is a full-service solar O&M service provider with complete project design, procurement, and construction management capabilities. The company also provides professional operations and maintenance services for solar power plants as well as small businesses and residences. With completed projects spanning government, education, commercial, and municipal customers. The Day Electric portfolio of projects makes the company one of the top solar PV service firms. For more information about professional O&M services for your PV system, contact Day Electric by phone at (434) 333-0355 or online at www.dayelectricusa.com