This post was written by Patty Johnson of McCarthy Building Companies, detailing the workforce development program McCarthy is implementing for the Kentuck solar project, of which Sol Systems is the owner’s representative overseeing delivery of the system.

The solar industry has been a significant force in the U.S. economy, employing more than 260,000 Americans in well-paying jobs ranging from design, engineering, construction, electrical, manufacturing, and installation, as well as the myriad supply chain providers. In fact, the solar industry has been growing 17 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy and has created more than 100,000 blue-collar jobs in the last five years, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association.

Solar Job Growth Projections

In 2017, solar employment was projected to grow by 10 percent and a look beyond by The Solar Foundation in partnership with the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University reveals projections – based on historic sector correlations, industry data trends, and increased labor efficiencies – that will produce approximately 401,200 jobs by 2021 and 581,600 jobs by 2026. Those figures are similar in scale to several other expert estimates, including the Solar Energy Industries Association’s 2016 projection of 360,000 jobs by 2020; and the less recent estimate by the US Department of Energy’s 2012 SunShot Vision Study of 340,000 jobs by 2030.

TWI Boosts Workforce Capacity

Although the trajectory of solar industry growth in the United States is uncertain due to the recently enacted tariffs on imported panels and cells, meeting the long-term workforce needs of the solar industry remains a focus for many. In solar construction especially, it can be challenging finding a trained workforce for the construction of utility-scale solar projects. And, since many of these projects are built in rural areas due to space requirements, the challenges increase considerably.

McCarthy Building Companies, the nation’s sixth-largest EPC solar contractor according to Solar Power World’s 2017 ranking, has been working to address these workforce challenges and last year introduced an old training process known as Training Within Industries (TWI). TWI was created by the United States Department of War in the 1940’s as an efficient way of training an unskilled workforce on moderately complex tasks. The benefit of these principles continues to be realized on McCarthy’s solar projects by applying its “Learn. Perform. Repeat” methodology.

Workers learn skillsets needed to complete complex solar projects. Many of the people working on these projects are ironworkers, carpenters, electricians or former employees of national retailers or fast-food chains. McCarthy is also realizing advantages of TWI related to time savings; quality and safety assurance; and solar cost reduction, benefits that are shared with solar development partners.

“It’s been encouraging to see the success of our TWI program,” said Scott Canada, senior vice-president of McCarthy’s Renewable Energy team. “We have quite a few success stories that involve individuals who were unemployed or underemployed with no clear career path opportunities and after participating in the TWI process, they are now taking advantage of more career opportunities in solar and other areas of the construction industry.”

TWI at Work Today in Danville, Virginia

Currently, McCarthy is building a new 76-acre, 6-megawatt alternating current system with Sol Systems in Ringgold, Virginia called the Kentuck Solar Project. It will be the largest municipal electric utility in Virginia and the energy produced by the plant will be purchased for the next 25-year by Danville Utilities. The plant will be owned and operated by WGL Energy Systems with Sol Systems acting as the project developer and owner’s representative.

Construction began in November 2017, and Kentuck is expected to be in operation providing energy to Danville Utilities customers in spring 2018. TWI training at Kentuck began in December 2017 and is continuing on-site today. Approximately 80 workers will be hired during the duration of the project that consists of assembling, installing, and wiring single-axis trackers supporting nearly 23,896 ET crystalline modules. During the first weeks of construction 25 workers were trained through TWI.

The training consists of five consecutive days of training, for 2 hours per day. The first day consists mostly of instructor training, and the remaining time consists mostly of coaching the supervisors to use their new skills with their own real-life problems in a “learn by doing” format. The instructor spends at least one hour in between sessions with each individual, coaching and helping them develop their job breakdown sheet.

The training results establishing standardized best practices and teaches supervisors how to effectively breakdown a job; deliver better instruction; and how to train employees to quickly learn and consistently remember how to do their job correctly and safely.

“The project is running very smoothly, and we’ve had a great response through our local workforce recruitment and TWI training in Virginia”, said Canada. “It’s not only rewarding for us at McCarthy to partner with companies like Sol Systems to bring clean renewable energy to communities across the country, but being able to also provide workers in the community with new job skills, and better options for their long-term career path makes our work particularly rewarding.”

Having a National Impact

McCarthy has implemented TWI and lean construction principles on solar projects in Arizona, California; Georgia; and throughout Colorado, Virginia and Tennessee. To date, more than 1,000 workers have been trained in TWI, bringing an economic boost to communities from coast-to-coast.

The TWI initiative is not only positioning McCarthy for the future as job growth in solar returns to pre-tariff threat projections, it is serving to help the firm develop a stronger workforce in all areas of construction and it has resulted in workers having an increased focus on continually improving safety, quality and field productivity, which is reducing overall project schedules and cost. Thanks to the combination of lean engineering and construction strategies and TWI, McCarthy’s Renewable Energy Team has successfully meet our cost and scheduling reduction goals, while still providing our customers with best in class facilities.

ABOUT SOL SYSTEMS

Sol Systems, a national solar finance and development firm, delivers sophisticated, customized services for institutional, corporate, and municipal customers. Sol is employee-owned, and has been profitable since inception in 2008. Sol is backed by Sempra Energy, a $25+ billion energy company.

Over the last eight years, Sol Systems has delivered 650MW of solar projects for Fortune 100 companies, municipalities, universities, churches, and small businesses. Sol now manages over $650 million in solar energy assets for utilities, banks, and Fortune 500 companies.

Inc. 5000 recognized Sol Systems in its annual list of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies for four consecutive years. For more information, please visit www.solsystems.com.