Shortage of Solar Panel Technicians

I was reading an article in today's IET on-line magazine about the shortage of technicians to work on solar panels, heat pump etc and it struck me that all these jobs involve working on equipment that operates at relatively high DC or AC voltages.

Is this shortage of people willing to join these professions, due to fear of being zapped?

Most kids and teens are only used to operating with low voltage equipment (cellphones, PC's, circuit boards). 


  • Is this shortage of people willing to join these professions, due to fear of being zapped?

    My personal suspicion is that it's more due to the shortage of medium / large companies that can cope with taking on apprentices. Despite the various initiatives to promote apprenticeships in recent years it's hard to see how they can succeed without large enough employers who can devote sufficient resources to supervising / training them.

  • Hello Andy:

    I am missing something in your response.

    Why does training in such thing as solar panel installation or heat pump operation and installation, require an apprenticeship with support from a medium sized employer?

    Here in Florida we have community colleges that have educational courses for brewing beer, professional cooking, solar panel installation, AC/heat pump maintenance, how to create secure IT systems etc. One signs up for a course and pays a fairly small amount of money for 3 -6 moths of "hands on" training. 



  • I think this could be a discussion thread by itself!

    One issue, is that there seems to be a perception that there are easier ways to make money, it used to be that everyone wanted to be a professional sportsperson or musician, but it seems to be everyone wants to be some form on influencer these days.

    The other is having opportunities. Yes, we have colleges that offer a variety of courses at a fairly small amount of money (but consider perception here, for some people that small amount looks significant).

    You can find courses as a bricklayer, plumber, electrician, etc. But there is no guarantee that you will find a job after completion. So its a little risky to sink your own money, especially if you don't have a lot. And lets be fair here, the richer families will generally send their children to university (no guarantee of a job after that either).

    Apprenticeships are the better option, as they pay a wage and the training is paid for. In the UK, large companies have to pay a tax which funds apprenticeships, which smaller companies can draw on. So effectively the training is free to the company (but not quite).

    And this leads to the other problem. Many companies simply don't want to pay for training. They complain incessantly that school leavers don't have the skills. But someone has to provide those skills and you can't expect it to be entirely the schools as they neither have the resources or experience.

    As a parent, I spoke with the teacher at my childs first ever school, what did they expect of a 4 year old. They told me, they wanted a child that was open to learning. They didn't expect the child to be able to read or write (ok, they wanted the child potty trained as well).

    Companies need to have the same attitude, they need school leavers that are ready to apply themselves and ready for the next phase of learning. That might include numeracy, communication skills and a grounding in other subjects as needed. But any specific work skills should be taught by industry.

    UK apprenticeships are regulated to an extent, the company is expected to provide training as part of it if they want to be reimbursed. Therefore Andy's point, you need a volume of suitable apprenticeships to bring in the new blood. Because the rest of the industry is waiting for fully trained people, and they will be waiting a long time.

  • Hello Mark:

    A couple of additional facts about the US:- Most States (including Florida) have 529 programs (pre-paid college education funds) which can be opened when the child in born. The parents (or grandparents) can contribute money each year into the fund, which grows with time tax free, until the they are 18 years old and need it for higher education (whatever that can mean).

    Using a Community Colleges (living locally at home) one can also get an AA 2 year degree, with guaranteed access to a State run University for another 2 years, for ones BS. 

    Children start regular school at least one year later than in the UK. The US also had "Head Start" programs to get the young children socialized before stating regular school.

    Peter Brooks

    Palm Bay  

  • Why does training in such thing as solar panel installation or heat pump operation and installation, require an apprenticeship with support from a medium sized employer?

    Marks's covered quite a lot of the connection. Another I've always felt is that, without a company to sponsor / support / apprentice them, school leavers simply don't know (and never have known) what such jobs are about. I used to do a lot of STEM ambassador work in school, and something you find out very quickly is that vanishingly few school pupils, of any age, have a clue what any of the technical professions are - except games designer. And there's no reason why they would, they'll have come across teachers, doctors, nurses, shop assistants, hairdressers, ok maybe possibly car mechanics. But there's no reason in their day-to-day life why they would have any more than the vaguest awareness of what most technical roles involve. (Ditto for most adults!) Now when I left school in the 1970s this may have been less of an issue, for example near where I lived in London there was a whole road (the Great Cambridge Road) full of Thorn EMI factories. A school leaver may have had no idea what a job there actually entailed, but they knew you could "go there and get a job" - or maybe "go there and learn a trade", such places were big enough to vacuum up school leavers and work out what to do with them later. (Not this this was to last much longer as it turned out.) These days it feels like it's up to the school or college leaver to push into an employer by explaining why they will be an asset rather than a burden on them - when that school / college leaver is unlikely to know what the job is about in the first place.

    So, together with Mark's points my belief is this is part of why you end up with issue - you can put on as many college courses as you like, but school leavers won't apply for them if they don't understand what they are, and they still won't help if those who do choose them can't get a job when they leave.

    Which comes on to actually the main reason I wrote what I did. No college education alone qualifies you to actually work in any technical area, there's always on the job experience needed as well. Mark touches on the fact that employers want staff who are already skilled and experienced, and there's a really good reason for this - a typical (say) 3,4,5 person business often simply cannot afford to lose one of its staff supervising an apprentice (or trainee if you like), because they have the double whammy of paying the trainee who is not significantly delivering and their supervisor / trainer is now delivering less work. A medium / large company has a chance of covering this overhead, a small company is going to really struggle. And, of course, all kudos to those who do it anyway! 

    So back to your original point Peter, my feeling is that pretty much any school leaver would be pretty horrified at the thought of working on something which could kill them if they touched it, and those that aren't probably shouldn't be allowed near it, but some will start a job where they will learn how to cope and even enjoy it (the job, not the electric shock!). The challenge is, who is going to give them that job? And how can we free up supervising staff to make more of those jobs available?

    I don't think there's an easy answer to this in the UK at least, it's been a growing problem since the UK government decided to exit manufacturing in the late 70s / early 80s (and I'm neither criticising or defending that decision, it just was what it was). Personally I tend to feel that the most likely arrangement to work to start apprenticeships moving again on any sort of scale is that training (not just education) becomes much more college based, with students spending short duration placements across a number of local businesses, so that each business is not overly burdened with having to supervise them. But of course there has to be a short term payoff for the business for this to work. And there's still the challenge of attracting school leavers in the first place. 

  • Hello Andy:

    I am well aware of the hollowing out of industry in the 1970's and the out-sourcing of (for example machine shops) functions to small "village" operations outside (example) Cambridge. One of my wife's family owned and operated such a one man village machine shop.

    The hollowing out process is still going on with the Steel works in Wales, which will effectively eliminate the production of steel from iron ore and only uses "out sourced" pig iron.

    I saw an article the other day that claimed if you remove assets created by "The City" the rest of the country becomes a 3rd rate country like Cuba. 

    It is not a good view from here!



  • Hello Andy: You mentioned being a STEM ambassador at schools. I assume this was an unpaid volunteer position!  Why did you do this?

    I bring this question up because there appears to be a stigma associated with volunteering (not being paid) for helping out, in the UK at this time.

    Fully retired engineers need to have a purpose in their lives and should be a good source for volunteers. I personally volunteered a couple days a week for over 15 years in our local hospital and learned a lot.

    Peter Brooks

    Palm Bay 

  • I assume this was an unpaid volunteer position! 

    Very much so - to the extent that I spent quite a bit of my own money on tools and equipment! Ok, here's the story, a few of us got together to enter Robot Wars (BattleBots in the US) in the late '90s, when it was huge on TV, and because we got known locally we got invited to take our "robot" into schools to talk about it. That led onto helping a school with their robot project, which then led us into finding out about a school spin-off (not televised) of Robot Wars which we decided to enter with our own children (who went to a very relaxed primary / elementary school). And next thing we knew we were running an engineering club there which was great fun. I ended up designing and running several inter-school challenges, working very closely with our regional STEM Ambassador co-ordinator.

    I stopped mainly because more and more people (mostly ex-teachers) started doing the same thing professionally, and to be honest I got fed up doing something for free when the person next to me, doing the same thing, was being paid for it. Also, quite a lot of what I did was IET funded, however the IET decided to stop funding individual projects and target national activities instead (fair enough). Plus I really enjoyed working with 5-13 year olds, and 16-18 year olds, but found myself doing several sessions with the group in between who are - as any teacher will agree - challenging. 

    (Just remembered, at the time I stopped I was also doing my Masters degree while at the same time trying to bring a major development project to delivery while at the same time restructuring our engineering department, having taken over from the engineering manager who was off with stress. I feel a bit better now about not being able to cope with other people's hormonal teenagers just then! I had two of my own at that time as well...) 

    But mostly it was great fun and I'd highly recommend it, I spent an awful lot of my spare time over 10 years doing it, fortunately there's a tradition in our part of the UK of the work week ending at lunchtime on Friday, which gave an afternoon a week in term time to do this stuff. 

    I bring this question up because there appears to be a stigma associated with volunteering (not being paid) for helping out, in the UK at this time.

    If there is I'm not seeing it! I currently work 4 days a week, but I'm looking to move down to 3 if a can as I'm struggling to find time for work among the amount of volunteering I'm doing, the assumption amongst the sort of people I get involved is "why work when you can have much more fun volunteering" (but of course this is a self-selected group of a certain age and, generally but not always, past income).

    What can create an issue is the attitude that people "ought" to volunteer (and, tbh, this can come across in the IET sometimes). Volunteering needs to be voluntary, persuasion and encouragement is good, "guilt tripping" definitely isn't.

    The other conflict that regularly happens is between "professionals" and "volunteers" - rather like my example above. My wife's worked in the charitable sector for very many years, and I've also been involved in it in various ways including as a trustee, and it is an incredibly difficult balance. The charities can't survive without volunteers, but it's a management nightmare as volunteers can decide to do whatever they want. You see some professionals treating highly skilled and experienced volunteers like children, and some volunteers (perhaps in consequence) acting like it! 

  • There are plenty of us STEM Ambassadors around!

    Many medium and larger companies now offer a small (really small) amount of paid volunteering time as part of their social impact. I don't think its a particularly new idea either, I can think of some companies that were doing similar things a couple of decades ago at least.

    But I agree with Andy, volunteering is best if it is something you enjoy. The nice thing about STEM Ambassadors is that their is a variety of activities that pop-up and you can choose what interests you.

  • I don’t know why you have the impression that there is a stigma associated with volunteering in the UK. Others have mentioned the STEM Ambassador programme which is a huge and successful nationwide programme of about 28000 volunteers. Far from being something just for retired engineers, I have done this for most of my career, and my company encourages our apprentices to join the programme, as they are best placed to attract school and college students choosing their careers. Additionally, there are around 300,000 school governors in the UK, which is the largest volunteer group in the country. Engineers are valued school governors. And of course the IET has a large body of volunteers working at many different roles within the organisation. I take part in all three of these voluntary roles and I know lots of others who do too.
    You asked Andy: ‘Why did you do this?’ For me, the answer is that I like to use my experience to help others, and they appear to appreciate it.