As global demand for renewable energy continues to surge, the European solar industry stands at the forefront of this transformative wave. The European Union added 41.4 GW of solar power generation capacity in 2022, enough to power 12.4 million homes, and is expected to more than double the scale of its solar market in the next four years, according to a report from trade body SolarPower Europe.
Of course, such a massive transition requires a lot of additional resources, not least skilled workers. SolarPower Europe's recent “EU Solar Jobs Report 2023” revealed a staggering 39% growth in the solar workforce, reaching an impressive 648,000 employees by the end of 2022 and up from 466,000 in the previous year. While initial estimates projected 1 million solar jobs by 2030, the industry now anticipates achieving this milestone as early as 2025, underscoring the rapid pace of solar market expansion.
In 2022, Poland emerged as an epicenter of the solar workforce, boasting the highest number of solar workers in Europe. Spain and Germany closely followed while Dutch, Italian, Greek, and French workers also contributed significantly to the continent's solar employment landscape. This geographical diversity emphasizes the pan-European nature of the solar revolution.
The uptick in solar job opportunities has, however, brought about its own set of challenges. The industry now faces a pressing concern: balancing the quantity of jobs needed to sustain growth with the need for skilled professionals to fill these roles. This dichotomy highlights the critical importance to solar companies of a strategic and dynamic approach to talent acquisition.
At Alight, we’re in a fast scale-up period, with a pipeline of more than 1.7 GW of solar project generation capacity in development across Europe and plans to invest more than €1 billion ($1.09 billion) over the next three years as we build out that pipeline. Of course, we need to bolster our workforce to accomplish that. We need skilled land originators, site developers, grid engineers, asset managers, sales executives, accountants, recruiters, and more.
In our quest to deliver our pipeline of projects, we’ve grown from 40 to 80 employees in the past year. To do so, we’ve implemented a recruitment strategy to attract and retain talent. We proactively target top-tier candidates and have a rigorous recruitment process to ensure a strong values and cultural fit. This, coupled with the strong sense of ownership and impact that employees report in internal surveys, helps to keep retention high and in 2022, we had a 3% turnover rate.
Recognizing the global nature of the talent pool, as highlighted by SolarPower Europe’s report, we’ve embraced a remote-first workplace culture. This enables us to source talent in mature markets where there is a lot of experience and, in turn, offer people the opportunity to translate skills they have gained in larger companies and apply them in a leading and entrepreneurial role at a growing company. In this way, geographical boundaries do not limit our access to the best and brightest minds in the industry and this flexibility has proven instrumental in meeting the urgency of the green energy transition.
To complement our remote-first culture, another key initiative has involved establishing a local presence in Madrid, tapping into the rich pool of solar expertise in the region. By opening an office in the heart of Spain we have successfully integrated local talent into our global workforce, fostering collaboration and innovation.
Sourcing beyond solar
In addition to sourcing talent from diverse regions, we also see a strong case for recruiting from other industries. The “climate-quitters” trend, which sees employees leaving jobs from traditional industries and instead seeking roles and industries that align more closely with their values — namely the environment — has ben widely reported. This is especially true among younger generations that are more tangibly grappling with the climate emergency. In fact, a 2022 survey of 2,000 office workers in the United Kingdom found that at least half of 18- to 24-year-old workers would consider leaving a job because of the company’s net-zero policies, compared to around a third across all age groups.
Companies that actively seek skilled individuals from other industries have much to gain from bringing in fresh perspectives and ultimately driving innovation within the evolving solar sector. It is easier to succeed if we don't all fight for the same small pool of skilled labor, not to mention the fact we’re firm believers in the idea diverse teams make better collective decisions and lead stronger teams, ultimately delivering better business performance. By extending the talent search beyond the existing solar pool, we not only enrich our workforce but also contribute to a culture of cross-disciplinary innovation, propelling the industry forward.
As the solar workforce boom aligns with market growth, it is imperative for the energy transition to focus not only on job quantity but also on the quality of skills available. Our experience underscores the need for a holistic and adaptive approach to workforce management, combining local engagement, global accessibility, and a passion for making an impact. In navigating these challenges, the European solar industry will not only sustain its growth but also emerge as a beacon of sustainability and innovation on the global stage.
About the author: Warren Campbell is deputy chief executive officer (CEO) and chief operating officer at Swedish solar company Alight. He was previously a partner in consultancy McKinsey’s global energy practice for 10 years and founded and was CEO of landfill gas bioenergy business Vireo Energy. Vireo built assets across five East European countries, reducing CO2 emissions by around 500,000 tons per year. Campbell is a graduate of the University of Sydney and holds a degree in chemical engineering and an MBA from Melbourne Business School.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.
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