Thursday, January 20, 2011

Solar Training Not Always Expected

Solar-power companies operating in Arizona expect most of their employees to learn on the job and don't expect them to have an education specifically tied to the industry, according to a recent study.

Professor Martin Pasqualetti, a senior sustainability scientist at Arizona State University's Global Institute of Sustainability, working with a colleague, surveyed 76 companies operating here that are looking to hire new employees and published his findings in the February edition of the scientific journal Energy Policy.

"Solar energy is destined to be an important element in any chance we have of achieving a sustainable energy future," they wrote.

"The question is 'How should we best prepare for and accelerate the transition from conventional fuels? What do we need to do?' "

They found that non-technical skills and management ability are at least as valuable as training in solar energy, which commonly is taught on the job.

A broad-based bachelor's-degree program in engineering, "with a strong emphasis on verbal and written communication, as well as business and teaming abilities," is most valued by the employers.

Most of the survey respondents specialized in solar photovoltaic panels, but some had specialties in solar thermal or solar water heating.

Sixty-eight percent of the respondents said they would hire a job candidate with a bachelor's degree in engineering with a solar-content area, while just 32 percent said they would hire people with master's degrees in the same field.

"The solar industry is not yet mature enough to be overly-welcoming to those who hold a narrow range of knowledge and abilities," the authors wrote.

"As the industry expands, there will be increasing need for focused skills . . . but for now the solar market is small enough that employees must be able to integrate knowledge about several aspects of the business."

They said that for solar to expand as an industry in Arizona, universities will need to respond to the needs of the industry.


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