SolarTech Workforce Innovations Collaborative Initiative

Finding the Right Employees for a Growing Industry

SolarTech Workforce Innovations Collaborative (SWIC) is a highly successful industry-led partnership that has demonstrated a new integrated and systematic approach to talent acquisition by identifying, training, and placing the right people for the right jobs at the right time to meet the specific needs of employers in Silicon Valley’s solar, energy efficiency, and electric vehicle industries. This program, funded through a $4 million California Green Innovations Challenge (GIC) grant that began in 2010 and concluded in June 2012, was a three-legged partnership involving industry represented by the trade association SolarTech, training programs provided by Foothill-De Anza Community College District, and talent development services offered by NOVA, the project manager for the initiative, who worked with individuals to have them trained and ready to work. SWIC has successfully shortened the time between industry demands and training the labor force by using innovative and pioneering practices and linking employers with highly qualified workers when they are needed most.

Over the 18-month grant period, SWIC trained 255 unemployed professionals and, of those who completed the program, 61 percent achieved employment. To effectively plan for, train, and place workers in employment opportunities as they became available, comprehensive labor market intelligence was collected in real time that included: scraping job boards, conducting one-on-one interviews with employers, aggregating quantitative labor market studies, and hosting industry-led forums about job trends and the qualifications and training that are needed by employers. As part of this grant, SWIC also purchased five SunPods — solar-powered charging stations for electric vehicles— that have been installed (or will soon be installed) at the City of Sunnyvale, Santa Clara County Valley Medical Center (2), the Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee Local 322 (EJATC), and at De Anza College for its automotive technology training program. Also for De Anza College’s automotive program, SWIC purchased an electric vehicle, a Chevy Volt, to create a “living lab” that is described in the April 11 edition of Renewable Energy World.

The SWIC program has made a sizeable investment in the region to sustain the growth of renewable and energy efficiency industry sectors. This model also presents a number of best practices and standards that can be replicated in other parts of the country where there is specific demand to grow a clean technology sector but a lack of supply of well-trained employees.

This SWIC initiative has many success stories and one example was described in the May 22 edition of Renewable Energy World. The initiative has been featured in numerous publications over the past several months including Renewable Energy World, CleanTechnica, and in the Professional Edge newsletter, Solutions. Additional articles may be viewed by going to the Media webpage of the NOVA website. In addition, the NOVA director, Kris Stadelman, along with the SWIC partners, has been invited to present at several forums including the June 19 meeting of the Public Utilities Commission – Workforce, Education and Training Task Force, and at the California Workforce Association’s Meeting of the Minds conference in September.

SolarTech, the industry partner for this initiative, has been taking a leadership role in seeking additional resources through the employer community to continue to sustain this program after the grant period ended in June. Dependency on grants is proving to be a challenging way to solve workforce issues, and the vision is to secure industry funding to build a more stable operation. SolarTech continues to drive forward the workforce development mission through its local and national partners: SolarTech’s members and board of directors, DOE, Solar Foundation, IREC, SEIA, Underwriters Lab, and others. SolarTech has also released a white paper titled, “Financing the Next Generation of Solar Workers,” and will present some of these ideas at IREC’s Clean Energy Workforce Conference in November in Albany, New York.