Want a Job in the Future? Turn Your Face to the Sun
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because job security is everything.
We cannot know how 2020 will unfold, or how the economy will fare, but it’s always a good idea to be prepared for the worst. In economically dubious conditions, actuaries and financial managers apparently fare best. And have you heard the one about morticians? Clients are always dying to get on their lists.
But none of the options, one might argue, reflects the dynamism of the moment — when technology shapes our lives more and more, seemingly by the day. Staying several steps ahead of evolving trends with future promise could make modern job hunters seriously competitive. So perhaps the following is no surprise:
The number of jobs for solar panel installers is projected to grow 63 percent by 2028.
Fixing solar photovoltaic panels (or “PV panels”) on rooftops has the highest projected growth rate that doesn’t require more than a high school education and professional certification — yet pays at least $40,000 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Right behind it is a wind turbine service technician, which requires more advanced education. Solar power is by far the fastest-growing field of renewable energy, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says. It’s projected to generate 700 gigawatts by 2024, compared to around 350 gigawatts from onshore wind. (For reference, it takes 3.125 million PV panels to produce just 1 gigawatt.)
Most U.S. companies on the lookout for potential installers have two things in mind, says Larry Sherwood, president and CEO of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council: a solid work ethic and a willingness to climb roofs. Firms are often willing to train candidates on the rest. What’s more, he says, there’s a wide variety of options within that subfield, from residential homes and commercial locations to major industrial sites. “There are lots of different scales and job opportunities,” Sherwood says. These days, an average solar panel system costs around $12,500, but prices have dropped and are expected to continue dropping, expanding the potential pool of consumers.
That trend is reflected around the world. Because solar power is cheaper and less labor-intensive than wind energy, the entry barrier is correspondingly lower. Theoretically, that allows small-time investors or even entrepreneurial individuals in Africa, for example, to install a single panel to power a household. “Or you can build a power plant of 500 megawatts in the middle of a desert in Chile. So we are talking about a huge range which actually unlocks a lot of potential investors and a lot of jobs,” says Heymi Bahar, a renewable energy analyst at the IEA.
The question, he adds, is not about the potential for solar power, but whether official policies will help facilitate its growth. State-provided subsidies — on the decline in many places as sun-based energy establishes a robust foundation — have been crucial for its development. But now it’s time for governments to provide a broader bureaucratic infrastructure that would help further integrate solar energy sources into the electricity market. Currently, most U.S. states permit some sort of “net metering,” allowing households to sell their unused energy to the grid. But rules and prices vary, prompting advocates like Bahar to call for clearer regulation.
While those questions are being contemplated around the world, growth in the U.S. solar industry remains robust. The industry is populated with a diverse array of companies, from startups to well-established companies employing hundreds or thousands of people. That should be encouraging for job seekers who may be worried about the potentially fragile nature of new firms exploring a still-evolving field. “Other companies would snap up workers really fast if any one company failed,” Sherwood says. “It’s a dynamic field.”
So if you’re considering a new career, or are jumping into the job market for the first time, the most stable option might have been shining over you all along.