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Solar Apprenticeship Programs

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The solar industry is growing rapidly, and we need an expanded skilled workforce to keep pace with this growth. SEIA is working to create and facilitate the development of programs, tools, resources, and networks that benefit our member companies, partner organizations, and solar industry workers.

Apprenticeships are a time-tested and powerful tool for workforce development. However, apprenticeships are not yet widely utilized in the solar industry. SEIA developed this page as resource for solar employers looking to explore, develop, or participate in registered apprenticeship programs. 

Apprenticeships and the Inflation Reduction Act

Following the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and Production Tax Credit (PTC) include apprenticeship requirements for solar projects (above 1 megawatt in size) in order to access the full value of the tax credits. SEIA has developed a summary resource on the relevant provisions of the IRA, as well as a more detailed resource for members. The prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements in the legislation will be subject to future guidance from the Department of Treasury explaining precisely how these requirements can be met.

The word “apprentice” can have a broad meaning in every day language. The Inflation Reduction Act’s use of the term “qualified apprentices” refers to those participating in a “Registered Apprenticeship Program”, and not for example in less formal, unregistered apprenticeship.1

An apprenticeship program must be validated by either the U.S. Department of Labor or a State Apprenticeship Agency in order to be a Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP).

Key components of a Registered Apprenticeship Program:

Registered Apprenticeship Programs (RAPs) aim to prepare workers for jobs while meeting the needs of businesses for a highly skilled workforce. It is an “earn while you learn” model that combines on-the-job learning under the supervision of a mentor, job experience, and classroom/online related instruction. 

  • Paid Job: Apprentices are paid employees who produce high-quality work while they learn skills that enhance their employers' needs. There are progressive increases in an apprentice’s skills and wages.
  • On-the-Job Learning: Develops skilled workers through structured learning in a work setting.
  • Classroom Learning: Improves job-related skills through instruction in a classroom setting (virtual or in-person).
  • Mentorship: Provides apprentices with the support of a skilled worker to assist and enhance critical hands-on learning.
  • Credentials: Offers a portable, nationally-recognized credential to be issued at the completion of the program.

Benefits of Registered Apprenticeship Programs

  • Effective Recruitment Tool – Attractive to job seekers looking to transition to a new industry and young workers looking to start a career in the trades. Note: Military veterans may utilize GI Bill Monthly Housing Allowance benefits to supplement their income earned as an apprentice in a RAP.
  • Retain Workers – Reduced employee turnover
  • Diversity – “Earn while you learn” model can reduce barriers for diverse candidates and credential supports advancement; Diversity goals are required for program registration
  • Demonstrate Qualification – Can be used to document worker qualification and meet licensing requirements (ex. electricians)
  • Financial Incentives & Technical Support – Federal, state and local funding is often available for employers and sponsor organizations

Employer Options for Participating in a Registered Apprenticeship Program:

Employers have various options when it comes to participating in registered apprenticeship programs. Some employers may opt to create and run their own apprenticeship program in-house, while other employers may prefer to participate in an apprenticeship program with a group of employers that is sponsored and administered by another organization such a labor union, trade association, or educational institution. 

  1. Participate in a group apprenticeship program sponsored by a labor union
  2. Participate in a group apprenticeship program sponsored by an organization that is not affiliated with a labor union. (Examples of sponsors may include educational institutions, community-based organizations, trade associations, employer consortiums, etc).
  3. Create, register, and administer an apprenticeship program in-house as an employer-sponsored program

How to Start or Participate in an Apprenticeship Program:

  1. Identify the “apprenticeable” occupation(s) for which you have hiring needs. Over 1,000 occupations have been approved as apprenticeable by the U.S. Department of Labor. If the occupation is not yet approved (such as Solar Installer for example), then another related or similar occupation may be able to be modified. You may search for existing apprenticeable occupations using the U.S. Department of Labor's Approved Occupations Tool. You may also reach out to your state apprenticeship representative on this List of State Apprenticeship Agency and State Office of Apprenticeship Contacts for assistance in determining if there are existing approved apprenticeable occupations that may be relevant for your company.
  2. Determine the appropriate “Sponsor.” (See Employer Options section above) An apprenticeship sponsor is the entity that registers the program and is responsible for the administration and operation of the program. A wide variety of entities may sponsor programs for employers to participate in, including educational institutions, community based organizations, trade associations, employer consortiums, and unions – or a single employer can sponsor their own program.
  3. Develop a Work Process Schedule & Training Plan. The Work Process Schedule defines the number of On-the-Job-Learning hours that must be completed in each major task category the apprentice needs to learn how to do. The training plan defines the related instruction to be completed. (The sponsor is primarily responsible for this item.)
  4. Develop Program Requirements and Policies, ncluding eligibility requirements, credit for prior experience & education, program format & duration, wage progression schedule, apprentice to journeyworkers or mentor ratio, complaint procedures, non-discrimination policies, and diversity goals. (The sponsor is primarily responsible for this item.)
  5. Register the Program with a State Apprenticeship Agency or U.S. Department of Labor.   Also register the program with the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure veterans can access their GI Bill benefits. (The sponsor is primarily responsible for  registration.)

    Are There Solar-Specific Apprenticeship Programs? 

    Registered apprenticeship programs for solar-specific occupations are currently limited as the U.S. Department of Labor does not recognize the occupation of Solar Installer or any solar-specific occupation (ex. Solar Designer, Solar Operations & Maintenance Technician, etc.) as “apprenticeable”.2

    However in about half of the states, apprenticeship programs may be approved by a State Apprenticeship Agency instead of going through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship. In early 2022, Florida registered a Solar Apprenticeship Program (focused on solar PV and thermal installation) aligned to that state’s solar contractor license. Florida is currently the only state with such a solar-specific program. 

    There are existing U.S. Department of Labor approved "apprenticeable" occupations that are utilized in states across the country in the solar industry today such as Electrician and Construction Craft Laborer for example.

    SEIA and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) are engaging with employers and diverse stakeholders to support the expansion of apprenticeships in the solar industry.

    Existing Apprenticeable Occupations

    The fastest way for solar companies to tap into the registered apprenticeship system is by using existing U.S. Department of Labor approved “apprenticeable” occupations. Below are some examples of existing apprenticeable occupations that solar and storage companies may want to consider exploring.

    Example Solar Job Title Existing Apprenticeable Occupation Duration Likely Relevant Under IRA*
    Electrician Electrician 4 years Yes
    Solar Laborer / Assembler / Installer Construction Craft Laborer 2 years Yes
    Equipment Operator Operating Engineer 2 years Yes
    Ironworker Ironworker 3 years Yes
    Operations & Maintenance Technician

    Maintenance Repairer, Buildings

    Maintenance Repairer, Industrial

    2 years

    4 years

    Possibly, depends on Treasury guidance 
    Warehouse Worker/Material Handlers Warehouse Worker/Material Handler 1 year Possibly, depends on Treasury guidance 
    Project Manager Project Manager 1 year No
    Technical Sales Representative Technical Sales Representative 1 year No
    System Designer Drafter, Electrical 4 years No
    Human Resources Manager Career Development Technician 2 years No
    Residential Electrician

    Residential Wireman

    2 years

    No
    Installer (Rooftop) Roofer 2 years No

    *Occupations listed as Yes in the Relevant under IRA column are illustrative examples of types of apprenticeable occupations that may be relevant under IRA depending on Treasury guidance that will be issued.

    For more information on existing apprenticeable occupations, you can explore the U.S. Department of Labor’s apprenticeship occupation finder

     

    Examples of Solar Industry Registered Apprenticeship Programs

    Below are a few examples of occupations that have been successfully utilized by individual solar companies creating in-house (employer-sponsored) registered apprenticeship programs or by sponsor organizations running group registered apprenticeship programs (union-based or non-union). This list includes examples of some programs and is not a comprehensive list. 

    Sponsor Occupation(s) Duration Type Scope
    Adaptive Construction Solutions Construction Craft Laborer 2 years Non-union Construction laborer on utility-scale energy projects
    Florida Solar Energy Apprenticeship Committee Solar Energy Technician (Approved for the state of Florida only) 2 years Non-union Solar PV and thermal installation in Florida
    International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Electrician 4 - 5 years Union-based Electrical
    Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) Construction Craft Laborer 2 years Union-based Construction laborer on utility-scale energy projects
    Oregon RE-JATC / OSSIA Renewable Energy Technician (modified from Wind Turbine Technician) in Oregon only 2 years Non-union Renewable energy project installations in Oregon
    Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) Renewable Energy Specialist (modified from Energy Auditor/Energy Specialist) 2.5 years Union-based Installation and maintenance of utility-scale solar, storage and wind
    Individual solar companies have created and run programs on their own Electrician/Residential Wireman 4 years/2 years In-house Electrical/Residential Electrical
    Individual solar companies have created and run programs on their own Construction Craft Laborer 2 years In-house Construction laborer on utility-scale energy projects

     

    While not listed in the table above, employers may also explore options for partnering with local educational institutions to assist with apprenticeship program implementation. Some community colleges, technical high schools, and trade/vocational schools offer training that is aligned with apprenticeship standards, with some also serving as program sponsors for local employers. Programs affiliated with colleges may also include options for earning college credit for on-the-job learning and degrees for completing an apprenticeship program. The Association of Community Colleges hosts a Virtual Apprenticeship Network that has resources for colleges to support employers with implementing registered apprenticeship programs. IREC also maintains a directory of training providers that offer solar-specific curriculum on the Solar Career Pathways page, which can serve as a starting point for identifying schools with training relevant to solar employer needs.

     

    Connecting with Existing Group Registered Apprenticeship Program Sponsors

    Are you a solar employer who would like to connect with a sponsor who runs a group apprenticeship program? Below are some resources for group apprenticeship programs in the construction and/or solar industries that you may want to consider reaching out to. Many of these are related to the traditional construction trade apprenticeships such as electricians, laborers, roofers, operating engineers, carpenters, and iron workers as these workers may do work on solar installations.

     

    For a more comprehensive list of apprenticeship sponsors in your location, you may utilize the apprenticeship.gov Partner Finder Tool to search for apprenticeship program sponsors by occupation in your area. 

    Examples of Existing Group Registered Apprenticeship Programs by Occupation (for trades/craft roles):

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Technical Assistance

    Solar and storage companies looking for technical assistance related to registered apprenticeships may want to consider reaching out to the following organizations for support:

    Additional Resources

    Get Involved

    To get plugged into SEIA and IREC's Solar Industry Employer Apprenticeship Group that is working on advancing apprenticeships in the solar industry, please email Becky Long, Senior Program Manager, SEIA at [email protected].

     

    Acknowledgements 

    interstate renewable energy council

    solar ready vets

    SEIA and IREC collaborated on the development of the content provided on this page. This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) under the Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) Award Number DE-EE0008577. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Energy or the United States Government.

    Footnotes

    1For the purposes of meeting apprenticeship requirements in the Inflation Reduction Act, the term “qualified apprentice” has a very specific meaning:

    The term ‘qualified apprentice’ means an individual who is employed by the taxpayer or by any contractor or subcontractor and who is participating in a registered apprenticeship program, as defined in section 3131(e)(3)(B).

    Section 3131(e)(3)(B) of U.S. code says “The term “registered apprenticeship program” means an apprenticeship registered under the Act of August 16, 1937 (commonly known as the “National Apprenticeship Act”; 50 Stat. 664, chapter 663; 29 U.S.C. 50 et seq.) that meets the standards of subpart A of part 29 and part 30 of title 29, Code of Federal Regulations.”

    2Criteria for “Apprenticeable” Occupations:

    To be recognized as “apprenticeable”, an occupation must meet four U.S. Department of Labor requirements:

    • Involve skills that are customarily learned in a practical way through a structured, systematic program of on-the-job supervised learning
    • Be clearly identified and commonly recognized throughout an industry
    • Involve the progressive attainment of manual, mechanical or technical skills and knowledge which, in accordance with the industry standard for the occupation, would require the completion of at least 2,000 hours (1 year Full-Time) of on-the-job learning to attain
    • Require a minimum of 144 hours per year of related instruction (classroom or virtual) to supplement the on-the-job learning