Friends, faculty, parents, and graduates of 2015.
I’m honored not to be standing in front of you today, ’cause let’s face it. I’m no Elon Musk, and you’re online and anxious to get on with finding a job that pays enough to cover your outrageous student loans and a modest crash pad with four roommates or less.
But before you launch into your career search, I wanted to offer you some tips on getting your first solar job and keeping it through the ups and downs of our growing industry. I think it will be useful advice, but I also have a selfish hidden agenda. I’ll tell you about that later, but for now, take these tips for what they’re worth (free!)
Do Your Solar Industry Homework
Lord knows you’ve pulled enough all-nighters over the past 4 to 6 years, but before applying to any solar job, I’d recommend studying up on some key terminology and the issues facing the solar industry today. Yes, you’ll learn about these things first hand on the job, but if you really want to impress a solar hiring manager, tell them you know what net metering is, what solar PPA’s stand for, and why you think the ITC should or shouldn’t be extended. You don’t have to be an expert on these topics—yet—but it just shows that you care about what we care about, and that’s a plus.
To get up to speed, I’d recommend reading the latest posts on Renewable Energy World, as well as Greentech Media, Solar Industry Magazine, Solar Power World, The Rocky Mountain Institute, Solar Novus Today, PV-Tech, Utility Dive, and all the latest research on SEIA’s website. You might also subscribe to the solar news curator websites like Solar Wakeup and PV Solar Report.
I know it’s a lot of info and you’ll be confused at first, but that’s natural. Google every acronym, memorize their meanings and then dumb it down so that you could easily explain it all to your Mom.
Look for Jobs Beyond Solar Panels and Solar Installation
When people think of the solar industry, they generally think of solar panels and home solar installation, but if you’ve done your homework as suggested above, you’ll recognize that the solar industry is much broader than those two sectors.
Sure, check out the residential solar market and the solar PV manufacturing companies, but also look into energy storage, solar advocacy, energy management software, solar design software, inverters, racking, distribution, electric vehicles, energy efficiency, and the small but important solar thermal sector. All of these market sectors need communicators, engineers, HR people, lawyers, finance people, accountants, data analysts, and of course, great sales people.
Make Mom Care
Although the solar industry can boast about polls that show wide support for solar and other renewables, solar still makes up about 1% of the U.S. electric grid. There are many reasons (homework!) for this, but one reason is because Mom (and Dad) and politicians have other priorities. They care more about something else than supporting or installing solar, and that’s understandable.
But if you’re going to be in the solar industry for the long haul, some way, somehow, you will have to think about how you might make Mom, Dad, and especially policy makers care more about solar.
…Come to think of it, you might have to make yourself care, too. There are a 1000 ways that you can use your degree and make money. If you’re going to use your talents toward replacing fossil fuels with solar, you’d better care enough to survive on average wages and working long hours, especially starting out. We’ve had lots of consolidations over the last 5 years, and there will be more. Caring about something will help you get through these ups and downs.
But How Do I Make Mom (and Myself) Care?
Caring has to be genuine and relevant to you and your concerns, so I really can’t tell you how or why you should care about growing the solar industry.
That being said, I will tell you that the majority of people who go solar care more about saving money than they do about saving the planet, so saving money is way to make Mom care—if she’s a homeowner. But maybe that’s still not enough to make Mom get a solar quote this week or for her to vote for solar friendly politicians.
And while I’m sure you care about having a steady job, as I mentioned before, there are easier ways to make money than being in the solar industry. So, we still need to find a reason for both you and Mom to care.
If I step back and think about it, the other thing that we all care about is someone else.
For example, picture any baby or toddler, especially one that you know. It’s difficult not to recognize their innocence and helplessness. They can’t do anything about climate change or air pollution or repealing oil and gas subsidies. And yet, today’s toddlers and infants are the ones who will be feeling the financial and health effects of all those things.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that we have to give Moms a guilt trip to go solar and to keep your solar job. What I am saying is that if you decide to find a job in the solar industry, it will be helpful for you to focus on a personal cause that makes you care about pushing through the obstacles that you will undoubtedly face. For me, it’s kids.
I said in the beginning that I had a selfish hidden agenda for writing this, and that’s it. I don’t have kids yet, but I do have six young nieces and nephews. I love them dearly, and I sincerely don’t want to make their future any more difficult than the usual paying off of their outrageous student loans and finding a crash pad with less than four roommates.
Tor “Solar Fred” Valenza is the Chief Marketing Officer of UnThink Solar and the author of Solar Fred’s Guide to Solar Guerrilla Marketing. For more solar marketing info, sign up for the UnThink Solar newsletter or follow @SolarFred on Twitter.