Trade Expertise and Networking for Newcomers and Returnees

Expert interview – July 3, 2023

David Wedepohl is Managing Director International Affairs at the German Solar Industry Association (BSW Solar)

David Wedepohl from the German Solar Industry Association (BSW) talks about the session on workforce and capacity building at the Intersolar Forum 2023.

What inspired you to hold a session on this topic at the Intersolar Forum 2023?

The BSW has been supporting its members’ efforts to attract skilled workers from home and abroad for several years now. While preparing the exhibition together with our partner, Solar Promotion, last fall, we came up with the idea of welcoming newcomers and “returnees” to the solar industry. Many companies, e.g. from the electrical trade, left during the difficult years and are now rejoining the industry. On top of that, many roofers are telling us that they are now training to become PV installers. Suggesting this session to our partner associations ZVEH and ZVDH was like preaching to the converted. The talent crunch is an issue for everyone.

What were the key topics addressed in the session?

The basic idea was to provide companies with a realistic picture of the market and to provide practical tips. It was really helpful that all of the speakers were practitioners, ranging from solar pioneers to traditional electrical engineers and roofers specializing in PV. All the speakers agreed that the business has changed, and so has the technology. Whereas feed-in installations used to dominate the market, today more complex systems comprising power generation, storage, charging infrastructure – and often heat generation – are requested. The fact that all of these components must be integrated and their functioning must be communicated to clients, makes these projects particularly demanding. The audience enthusiastically joined in the discussions about the financial risks and opportunities, as well as the responsibility of solar engineers as climate-friendly companies. In addition, the cooperation between the different trades was addressed as “level playing field collaboration”. Of course, bureaucratic and political hurdles were also discussed, as were experiences with training apprentices and attracting skilled workers. A number of practical examples of current technical developments in the solar industry, such as the latest generation of solar tiles or the aesthetics of roof-integrated systems, were presented, and there were plenty of questions from the audience.

How was the topic received at the Intersolar Forum?

We were pleasantly surprised at the number of companies that came to the event on a Friday afternoon, and at how lively the discussion was on the panel, between speakers and with the audience, as well as during the networking event after the presentations. The feedback particularly praised the combination with the exhibition, as this allowed attendees to see – and even tough – the products mentioned during the event.

What opportunities do you currently see for experienced tradespeople and newcomers to the PV market? What are the challenges in mobilizing skilled workers for PV installations?

The German PV market has been growing by around 30 percent a year and must continue to do so in order to meet the German government’s targets, and the associated climate targets. Demand is high across all segments – so the future is bright for companies in this market. But there are also hurdles, such supply chain issues, especially for newcomers. When it comes to attracting skilled workers, companies compete for the same people with many other industries. The biggest competition comes from universities, although there is a growing interest in taking up a trade – particularly in the field of renewable energies – instead of studying. There is also the need to economize existing resources. Nowadays, the situation for solar engineer is like that of surgeons: They must try to reduce administrative work to a minimum in order to do their actual job.

The challenge lies in reducing the shortage of skilled workers by cooperating with other trades and through digitization. According to the speakers, many companies are adapting to the needs of their employees. Offering more flexibility coupled with the sense of purpose that comes from contributing to the energy transition makes this industry unique and helps attract skilled workers.

What were your takeaways from this Intersolar Forum event? What did you learn?

I learned how important it is to include all players. Currently, no single player is able to fully serve the market alone. This makes companies more open towards collaboration, because the cake is growing and the pieces are there to be distributed. There are still many synergies to be leveraged – and experience to be shared. We can’t think of a better place for this than The Smarter E / Intersolar.

David Wedepohl spoke to Sarah Hommel de Mendonça.

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