McCarthy Building Companies started its construction business over a century and a half ago, and this expertise facilitated a smooth entrance into solar installations in 2009. The company’s employee-centric roots still impact the business today, with a strong emphasis on local workforce development. Based in Phoenix, Arizona with solar projects across the country, McCarthy values solar energy as an economic engine that can spark business investments and job creation.
Ten years ago, McCarthy established its national renewable energy business to apply its long-held expertise in construction to solar installations. The renewable energy program now accounts for 15% of the business at McCarthy, totaling over 1.7 GW of solar capacity either completed or under construction. McCarthy is an employee-owned company, which empowers employees at all levels to be included in the day-to-day decision-making process. The company credits its success in the solar industry to its dedication in hiring and training local labor to perform project construction, which in turn catalyzes local economic growth.
McCarthy’s solar business offers Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) contracting services to large third-party developers, utilities, and cooperatives for utility-scale projects. According to Mike Corso, VP of Operations, McCarthy is unique in “our ability to hire, train, and execute local work at a, as well as our highly skilled engineering team.” Their business model emphasizes the hiring and training of local workforce crews to complete projects. In any given year, McCarthy will perform around one million labor hours for solar projects, over 60% of which are from direct hires from local communities. To achieve this, they partner with local workforce development organizations to help coordinate job fairs around the community.
McCarthy’s dedication to hiring and training local workers helps create a robust workforce pipeline for solar and construction workers across the country. Since most of its projects are in rural areas, typically with a small labor pool, the job market can be particularly competitive in these areas since many industries are looking to hire similar workers. This means that McCarthy’s workforce development partnerships are an essential part of the hiring process.
Every new hire goes through a three-month on-the-job installation training program that includes an elevated focus on safety unlike any other in the construction industry. New hires for an installation position learn from McCarthy foremen the specific building and safety skills critical to earning a solar installation certification for each specific craft including mechanical, electrical, and civil. All craft employees participate in the Training Within Industries (TWI) program, a McCarthy specific training program, specially designed to strengthen the solar workforce by teaching the skills necessary to complete complex solar projects. Together, these training programs allow workers with no previous experience to start a new career in the solar industry. Furthermore, the program equips workers with a skill-set that is transferable to construction careers with McCarthy, or elsewhere in solar construction.
Not only does the TWI program benefit workers, it has led to significant business advantages for McCarthy. “We have identified three key areas where TWI training has showed success for our business, including a better-quality product, improved labor efficiency, and improved safety,” said Scott Canada, Senior VP of Renewable Energy for McCarthy.
To McCarthy, local workforce development is especially important to support underemployed or unemployed workers in rural America, which faces higher rates of unemployment compared to urban areas. By training and developing the workforce in rural locations, where utility-scale solar projects are typically located, McCarthy sees widespread benefits for the community. A typical 100 MW project will employ 300 craft workers, including 150-180 hired from the local community and approximately 25 McCarthy staff, providing them with full-time employment and training for 3-12 months, Canada says.
Combined with McCarthy’s local workforce development efforts, the utility-scale projects they build can help spark economic development in rural communities beyond solar jobs. As more and more businesses expand their clean energy goals, rural communities with solar infrastructure can be an attractive location to establish commerce. Attracting businesses that support clean energy goals leads to the creation of permanent jobs and infrastructure, and McCarthy brings the expertise, innovative design, and best operational practices to help communities achieve their economic goals.
In addition to their direct-hire craft employees for temporary projects, McCarthy employs about 150 permanent employees working on solar energy. Each solar project undergoes a pursuit phase, design phase, and field operations and commissioning phase. Key employees during the pursuit and design phases include estimators, who determine project pricing and budgets; mechanical, electrical, and civil engineers who produce system designs; and operations and project personnel, who oversee the management of projects.
During the field operations and commissioning phase, project managers, superintendents, and foremen oversee the installation crews and all aspects of the field work for a project. For a typical 100 MW project, there may be 25 permanent McCarthy employees on-site to supervise and execute the installation. In the hiring process, it can be challenging to find permanent field employees who are willing to travel extensively from project to project. To account for the strain that traveling may place on its employees, McCarthy provides special travel incentives such as increased salary, subsistence packages, and extra time off.
As innovation continues, McCarthy expects a bright renewable future which presents a multitude of opportunities. One future workforce need will be for experts who test models for system performance. “As more and more systems age, the market is expanding to understand the tools necessary for ongoing system performance to sustain systems at their full capacity,” Canada notes. As storage starts to penetrate the market more, McCarthy will also seek to hire functional engineers with knowledge of solar+storage technology. These new roles, along with their focus on local workforce development, will ensure McCarthy continues to thrive in the solar industry and help spur economic development in local communities.