No industry is safe from the shortage of skilled workers, and the shortage of personnel is particularly severe in the field of photovoltaics. The Convoltas company believes it has found a solution to the problem.
Solar expansion is booming: last year, solar systems with a capacity of one gigawatt were installed in Switzerland – that’s as much as the output of the Gösgen nuclear power plant.
But the expansion of photovoltaics could go even faster. It’s not happening due to supply bottlenecks, but not only that. Above all, there is a lack of manpower. There are simply not enough solar installers to satisfy the demand.
The solution would be an education offensive, and the first courses in photovoltaics are already being offered. Swisssolar, for example, is launching a new apprenticeship as a solar installer in 2024.
13 new employees found
But Convoltas AG thinks this new apprenticeship has come too late. The Zug-based company has therefore found a more appropriate solution: it has taken over the Melintec AG company from Bremgarten, and is training its electricians in the installation of photovoltaic systems.
The 13 employees will thereby be gradually deployed for the planned photovoltaic projects of Convoltas AG. CEO Enrico Anderes explains: "The experts from Melintec are the perfect addition to our team, because, in addition to assembling solar panels, trained electricians are able to manage our projects and take on all the electrical work."
Convoltas is thereby doubling its workforce to 29 employees. After a one-month induction, the Melintec specialists will receive six months of training from the Enrico Anderes team and will attend a course run by Swisssolar. Melintec founder Stive Meier sees the takeover of his company as good fortune: "We are giving young people a new perspective: to learn to be an electrician, to become a solar professional and to participate in building a sustainable energy future."
Solar installers from Convoltas AG in Zug at work. The company recently took over the Melintec company from Bremgarten in the canton of Aargau.
The biggest problem with the construction of PV systems is the lack of skilled workers.
With the acquisition of Melintec, Convoltas has doubled its workforce.
Education system not agile enough
The rapid growth of the general contractor, which specialises in the construction of large-scale photovoltaic plants, is evidence of the dynamism of the industry. For Martin Uhr, head of technology and member of the management of Convoltas, the takeover of Melintec is proof that the education system often lags behind the economy: "It was foreseeable in the last five years that the solar industry would experience strong growth. But the apprenticeships are only coming now."
Apart from education policy, he believes this is also a cultural problem: the lack of appreciation of craft professions discourages young people from entering them. "This is evident in the case of electricians, where the apprenticeship drop-out rate is 30 % in some cases," says Martin Uhr.
Politics lags behind the economy
In addition to the education system, politics is also less agile than the economy. Martin Uhr mentions a second hurdle in the construction of photovoltaic plants: building objections and administrative expenses. "Politics is too restrained. Although there have already been some simplifications," he admits. He adds, for example, that many municipalities have streamlined their notification requirements, even for larger plants that used to have to be embedded in planning approval procedures.
This has now been largely eliminated, which saves three months in the approval procedure. Despite everything, says Martin Uhr, "The bureaucracy could always be leaner."
The solution to the shortage of skilled workers?
In its media release, Convoltas praises the chosen path of the company takeover as a "solution to the shortage of skilled workers". CEO Enrico Anderes even believes that the approach will set a precedent in the industry. "In this way, we can counter the shortage of skilled workers quickly and efficiently."
On the other hand, this does not create more skilled workers - they are merely shifted from one profession to another. "In the longer term, the solution does not work," admits Martin Uhr. In the longer term, young people would have to be trained in solar professions. At the same time, he is convinced that these professions offer prospective electricians a perspective and open more doors. "In the solar sector, they can be part of the energy transition and work for the good of society".