Oregon, Washington Solar Industry Faces Diversity and Inclusion Challenges, New Report Finds

Report by The Solar Foundation points the way forward to build a skilled and diverse solar workforce

Washington, D.C., June 6, 2019 — Solar companies in Oregon and Washington understand the importance of workforce diversity, but they often do not know where to start or lack resources needed to diversify their employees, according to a new study released today by The Solar Foundation.

The Oregon and Washington Solar Workforce Diversity Report evaluates the workforce pipeline for the solar industry in Oregon and Washington, and specifically the practices surrounding diversity and inclusion, hiring, and training. This report looks at the progress made and challenges ahead in building a skilled, diverse, and inclusive solar workforce in the Pacific Northwest.

The report was produced by The Solar Foundation, a national nonprofit organization, and sponsored by the Northwest Energy Coalition and Energy Trust of Oregon. It was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office.

A majority of solar employers in Oregon and Washington say that in today’s tight labor market, it is difficult or very difficult to hire qualified workers. There is ample opportunity and need for Oregon and Washington to improve diversity in recruitment and hiring, in order to provide equitable access to employment and build a skilled workforce to meet the needs of a modern grid.

“Oregon and Washington face a challenge shared by states across the nation: How do we make the solar workforce more inclusive and representative for women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and veterans?” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director at The Solar Foundation. “By meeting this challenge, solar companies can expand the pipeline of skilled workers while also making the industry more innovative and profitable.”

The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2018 recently found that women make up 27 percent of the solar workforce in Washington and 19 percent of the solar workforce in Oregon. People of color make up 19 percent of the solar workforce in both Washington and Oregon. For comparison, women make up 50 percent of the population in both states, while people of color make up 31 percent of the population of Washington and 24 percent in Oregon.

The Oregon and Washington Solar Workforce Diversity Report is based on qualitative interviews with solar companies, nonprofits, industry leaders, and training providers across both states. In addition to diversity and inclusion, the report looks at other aspects of building a skilled solar workforce, including the licensing and training practices of installers, hiring difficulties, and advancement opportunities.

“A solar workforce reflecting the diverse identities and perspectives of Oregon will help all utility customers access the benefits of solar generation,” said Jeni Hall, solar senior project manager at Energy Trust. “The first step to building a diverse and inclusive solar workforce is understanding the current makeup of employees and barriers to participation. The findings from this report will inform Energy Trust’s support for the next generation of solar workers through collaborations with Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association, Constructing Hope and Oregon Tradeswomen.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Solar companies acknowledge the importance of workforce diversity, and are seeking to expand their workforce diversity and inclusion efforts, but many say they do not know where to start or do not have the resources to take necessary steps.
  • Sixty-nine percent of the companies interviewed do not formally track employee gender, sexual orientation, ethnic, and racial diversity.
  • Fifty-nine percent of companies rely on word-of-mouth as a recruiting technique, which reinforces existing workforce demographics and often excludes underrepresented populations.
  • Most of the companies interviewed struggle to find licensed electricians and Limited Renewable Energy Technicians (LRTs). Solar contractors should actively participate in the training of LRT and electrical apprentices to ensure a robust pipeline of licensed workers is available.
  • The solar industry in Oregon and Washington has opportunities for rapid advancement. New hires who are unlicensed installers have the potential to be promoted to a mid-level position within one year or less, resulting in a 17 percent pay raise. For entry-level licensed installers, the expected pay raise after promotion is 28 percent.

This report follows up on the U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study 2019, released in May 2019 by The Solar Foundation and the Solar Energy Industries Association. That report looked at challenges to diversity and inclusion on the national level and identified best practices to move the industry forward.

The full text of the Oregon and Washington Solar Workforce Diversity Report can be viewed at: https://www.thesolarfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/ORWA-Diversity.pdf.

 

About The Solar Foundation®

The Solar Foundation® is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to accelerate adoption of the world’s most abundant energy source. Through its leadership, research, and capacity building, The Solar Foundation creates transformative solutions to achieve a prosperous future in which solar and solar-compatible technologies are integrated into all aspects of our lives. Learn more at TheSolarFoundation.org.

About Energy Trust of Oregon

Energy Trust of Oregon is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to helping utility customers benefit from saving energy and generating renewable power. Our services, cash incentives and energy solutions have helped participating customers of Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, NW Natural, Cascade Natural Gas and Avista save $3.2 billion on energy bills. Our work helps keep energy costs as low as possible, creates jobs and builds a sustainable energy future. Learn more at www.energytrust.org or call 1-866-368-7878.

MEDIA CONTACT:

Avery Palmer, The Solar Foundation, 202-866-0908, apalmer@solarfound.org