January 11 (Reuters) – U.S. clean energy companies are offering better salaries and benefits, flying by coach from abroad and mulling ideas like buying electrical repair shops and shingles just to hire their workers as companies try to fix labor shortages that threaten to derail President Joe Biden’s Climate Change Agenda.
According to the White House, the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law last year, provides an estimated $370 billion in subsidies for solar, wind and electric vehicles. Starting January 1, US consumers can take advantage of those tax credits to upgrade their home heating or install solar panels on their roofs. Those investments will create nearly 537,000 jobs a year over a decade, according to a BW Research analysis commissioned by The Nature Conservancy.
But with the US unemployment rate at a historic low of 3.5%, companies say they fear they will struggle to fill those jobs and plan to transition away from fossil fuels. may be stalled. Despite layoffs and signs of recession elsewhere in the economy, the labor market for clean energy jobs remains scarce.
“Looks like this is a big risk for this expansion. Where are we going to find everyone?” Abigail Ross Hopper, commercial group president of the Solar Industry Association said.
Shortages are expected to particularly severely impact electric vehicle and battery production as well as solar panel installations and home efficiency, forcing some companies to adopt new approaches. daring to find workers.
South Korea’s SK Innovation Co Ltd, which makes batteries for Ford Motor Co’s (FN) F-150 Lightning all-electric pickup trucks in Commerce, Georgia, has increased wages and benefits as its workforce grows. in the United States to 20,000 by 2025 from 4,000 today.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the battery manufacturer is advertising pay between $20 and $34 an hour, well above Georgia’s average hourly wage of $18.43. It also covers 100% of life insurance costs and makes matching retirement plan contributions up to 6.5%, well above the national average of 5.6%, according to the Plan Funding Council of America. And the company is offering free food at work.
“Georgia’s talent pool is not really big. But we are trying to improve some of our policies to better source and retain workers,” said an SK official, who asked not to be named. sensitivity of the matter.
Georgia state officials said SK’s hiring was successful considering how quickly production had to ramp up to meet the company’s obligations to automakers.
While national residential solar installation company SunPower Corp (SPWR.O) is ramping up hiring, CEO Peter Faricy said the company is also looking at what he calls a “crazy idea.” crazy” to secure labor – including the acquisition of companies just for their workers.
“I’m not suggesting that we’re going to do this, but I want to give you an important level of what we’re looking at. For example, should we buy a roofing company? and turn them all into solar installers? Should we buy an electric company? and get 100 electricians?” he say.
SunPower also held talks last year with panel maker First Solar Inc (FSLR.O) about developing a solar panel that’s easier to install, allowing teams to equip two houses a day instead of just one, Faricy said.
SunPower’s competitor, Sunrun Inc (RUN.O), is deploying drones to survey the roof before installation, helping to reduce the number of workers needed to extend the roof. It also rewards top teams with office parties.
Chris McClellan, Sunrun’s senior vice president of operations, said in an interview: “You can turn the employee experience into the best game… it just makes the industry so much fun. more taste, more attractive”.
Offshore wind developer Orsted (ORSTED.CO), a Danish company that is planning to build projects off the East Coast, hopes to bring in staff from projects in the UK and Europe Asia came to help train staff. State reports have shown that New York and Massachusetts face large gaps in the offshore wind workforce.
Mads Nipper, CEO of Orsted, told Reuters: “We are creating an ecosystem where we not only have an offshore wind academy but actually train the trainers of the future.
The Biden administration has repeatedly promised that the new green energy jobs will be well-paying union jobs.
But according to a 2021 study by BW Research, many of those jobs have caused the fossil fuel industry to pay more slowly, as clean energy companies have sought to rein in costs to compete with the fossil fuel industry. long-standing industries. The IRA seeks to solve that problem by tying applicable wage and apprenticeship requirements to stipends.
Those provisions — and hiring challenges — have put pressure on some employers to use unionized workers.
Drawing on previous recruitment challenges in Europe and Asia, Orsted signed an agreement with the Construction Trade Federation of North America to ensure worker safety.
Even Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), a company once embroiled in a dispute with workers trying to organize, used union labor to build the team’s charging infrastructure its electric delivery vehicle in Maspeth, Queens, NY.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
Corrine Case, an electrician represented by Brotherhood of Electrical Workers International, says she gets paid $43 an hour to install the charging system at Amazon.
Case, a single mother, said she is excited about the assurance job given the growing demand for electricians to install charging stations.
“Our field is constantly changing for new sources of energy and being part of that is amazing,” she said.
FREE WORKER TRAINING
In the hunt for workers, solar, wind and electric vehicle companies have expanded programs that provide free training and subsidies to military veterans, women and former incarcerated people.
SK told Reuters it has recruited at military job fairs and American Legion programs and partnered with programs like Georgia National Guard Jobs for Warriors and Heroes. of the MAKE America Manufacturing Institute.
Some solar companies have tried to recruit veterans, saying the skills learned in military life will translate well for the industry.
Utility-scale solar developers SOLV Energy, SunPower and Nextracker last year partnered with the nonprofit Solar Energy International to fund a women-specific training program for installers. Solar. More than 30 women attended the week-long course in Colorado.
In October, the nonprofit Solar Excellence Practical Instruction Network (SHINE) partnered with the Virginia Department of Corrections on a pilot program to train 30 inmates and newcomers to Install solar panel. SHINE director David Peterson said the team is in discussions about expanding the program.
In California, the nonprofit Grid Alternatives has trained 150 inmates at the Madera County jail in solar installations since 2017 and is expanding its program this year to other facilities in the state. state. Tom Esqueda, the nonprofit’s director of outreach, says potential employers are more open to hiring former incarcerated people when they see they’ve been trained.
In Los Angeles, the nonprofit Homeboy Industries, which works to rehabilitate former gang members, is using potential job opportunities for solar panel installers to help recruit for a state-sponsored employment program. Homeboy trains 50-60 people per year to become solar panel installers.
According to Jackie Harper, program supervisor, more than 80% of those who have undergone the training in the last year have found work in the solar sector.
“I’m going to stick with this,” said Marco Reyes, 28, who joined the program after being released from prison in February and earning $23 an hour as an installer in Valencia, California.
He now plans to train on the electrical end of solar installations, which will give him a pay rise.
“Everybody has the opportunity to advance to a better position,” he said. “This job is a life changer for me.”
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Reporting by Nichola Groom and Valerie Volcovici; Edited by Richard Valdmanis and Suzanne Goldenberg
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