BY THE NUMBERS
• 236 - profits and nonprofits involved in Tennessee's solar industry sector
• 6,400 - workers in state's solar sector in 2010
• 76,031 - clean energy jobs in Tennessee
Source: MTSU, Brookings Institute, TSI
Tennessee's solar industry is heating up, but the lack of labor skills for some jobs could cool the sector, says a new report issued Thursday.
"Employees need new skills to work in the solar industry," said John Sanseverino, the Tennessee Solar Institute's programs director.
Still, Sanseverino said the state's solar industry is growing rapidly, adding 15 new businesses last year alone across the state.
"It offers chances to put the unemployed back to work," he said.
A new report by the Solar Institute said 236 organizations are involved in solar power businesses, including 174 for-profit entities. Since 2008, 33 new entrants were identified in Tennessee.
Both small and large businesses are taking part in the industry's growth in Tennessee, the report showed.
Wacker Polysilicon is investing $1.5 billion in a new manufacturing plant in Bradley County, Tenn. Hemlock Semiconductors is building a similarly sized facility near Clarksville, Tenn.
At the same time, the report found that 58 percent of solar-related firms in Tennessee have 25 employees or less.
But the report said worker skills and specialized training must be improved if the industry is to reach its potential in the state.
Some 63 percent of manufacturing firms mentioned employee training as a key concern.
Responding to the report, Erika Burk, the Wacker plant's human resources director, said she'd like to see employees have more mathematical, technical, computer, chemical and mechanical knowledge.
She said Wacker has developed the Wacker Institute in partnership with Chattanooga State Community College in order to train potential employees before it hires them.
"Many management positions and other exempt positions are sent to Germany for weeks or months at a time for on-the-job training," Burk said. "But there are other exempt jobs where we hire well qualified employees who can take off and run."
The institute was launched in 2010 as part of Tennessee's Volunteer State Solar Initiative. The institute received $23.5 million of federal funds which officials said have leveraged more than $40.3 million in private investments.
Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...
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