"In the photovoltaic sector, the shortage of skilled workers at the level of electricians is estimated at around 60 to 100,000 people"

Interview – September 01, 2023

Interview with Berthold Breid, CEO, RENAC

Berthold Breid, CEO of the Renewables Academy AG (RENAC)

The shortage of electricians, air conditioning technicians and IT specialists could put the brakes on Germany's energy transition, as the country currently lacks about 216,000 skilled workers to expand solar and wind power. This is the result of a study by the Competence Center for Skilled Workers at the Institute for the German Economy.

Which occupational groups are particularly affected? What are the options for training and continuing education? And what about the financing of training? Berthold Breid, CEO of the Renewables Academy AG (RENAC), provides answers in this interview.

The renewable energy industry in Germany is suffering from an enormous shortage of skilled workers. Can you give us an overview of this situation?

The lack of skilled workers is a big problem, no matter which area of renewable energy you look at. Be it wind energy, biogas or even the discussion about heat pumps. There is a massive shortage of skilled workers who can plan, install, operate and, if necessary, repair all the systems. At an event organized by the German Energy Agency last fall, a figure of 80,000 installers was mentioned for heat pumps alone. In the field of photovoltaics, the shortage of skilled workers, i.e. at the level of electricians, is estimated at around 60,000 to 100,000 people, and among the project developers who secure the land and develop the contracts, the need is estimated at around 10,000 people in Germany.

What factors have contributed most to this? There is also a shortage of skilled workers in other industries. How attractive is it to work in the renewable energy industry?

It is very attractive to work in the renewable energy sector. If only because it is important for many people to have a meaningful job. The problem with the shortage of skilled workers is that there are several major factors at play. One is that far too few young people are entering the workforce. We have a massive problem, not only in the renewable energy sector, but also in nursing, teaching, and many other areas. We will have to deal with the issue of immigration or even recruit workers from abroad. In Germany, unfortunately, there is still no nationwide regulation to ensure that photovoltaics is sufficiently included in the standard curriculum for electricians. In some states, it is included in the framework curricula, but it is not defined more precisely what people should actually learn. It is also problematic that, for example, vocational school teachers, who are supposed to pass on this know-how to the electrician trainees, have no opportunity to learn it, unless the country really decides proactively to integrate this offer into the vocational school teacher academy.

We need installers quickly, but we also want them to be well trained. What is more important, that we get a lot of them quickly through additional training, or that they are well trained?

We actually need both, and I think you can solve both at the same time. The quality has to be right, it has to be very good, otherwise customers will naturally turn away. You have to think about what steps are necessary to install a PV system, like laying cables or connecting the inverter. There is also a lot of preparatory work, such as setting up scaffolding, preparing cable ducts, installing fuses, and all the logistics. This work can certainly be done by people who are not qualified electricians. Electricians should stick to the jobs they are trained to do. It doesn't really make sense, nor is it economical, to have a trained electrician laying cable ducts, especially in light of the shortage of skilled labor. There are a lot of ways to train people who are already here, especially young men, and then support them.

So should we train or quickly bring in professionals from outside?

Actually, both, and preferably in parallel. Training takes three years. The states have to train their vocational school teachers in renewable energy. Then the vocational school teachers have to do it, and in parallel, of course, the states have to make sure that renewable energy is included in the curriculum. There are quite a few vocational schools that already have photovoltaics in their curriculum, but there could be many more. That's the point. There's a lot of potential there. At the same time, we need people now. We need to make progress in education, we need to make progress in continuing education, and we also need to bring in skilled workers from abroad and then offer the appropriate qualifications.

Should existing job profiles be supplemented or do we actually need new professions?

We don't need new occupations. We need additional qualifications, and we need them during education.

Change in training or additional training effort: Can it be done at no cost? Or will it cost money? And if it costs money, where will it come from?

Of course, it costs money to train vocational school teachers, for example, and to supplement curricula or framework curricula. But how much money are we actually talking about, what are we investing in education and training, and what can we ultimately achieve with it? Investing in education is necessary, it makes sense, and above all it is very economical. If you can get trained people to install PV systems or other renewable energy systems, and the company can offer more, then of course that helps, because income is generated, taxes are paid, more is done for the environment. Compared to what you invest in training, what you get out of it over the next ten years.

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