The Renewable Energy industry is booming, resulting in a high-demand for crews skilled in clean energy maintenance. Laborers and technicians from other industries are filling the talent gap, but their lack of renewables experience and a mechanical skillset in solar panels and wind turbines has left independent service providers (ISPs) struggling to deliver high-caliber service.
To overcome this lack of experience, World Wind & Solar developed the Hire-Train-Retain (HTR) Program, a rigorous program that teaches new technicians the necessary skills they need for clean energy maintenance. To ensure the highest standards of safety and client service, the HTR Program is more than just technical training – it is a comprehensive development program that teaches individuals how to deliver holistic customer care, become self-leaders, and stay true to World Wind & Solar’s “Here to Serve” ethos.
“More than a specific skillset – character matters.”
The first step in the HTR Program involves hiring individuals that demonstrate an aptitude for the core tenants of the HTR Program: Electrical and Technical Skills, Safety, Teamwork, and superior Due Diligence that represents the “Here to Serve” culture.
The hiring process starts with the group interview, which is comprised of candidates that have completed an online application ensuring they meet basic work requirements. In this interview, applicants are given an overview of World Wind & Solar, expectations of the job, and what the “Here to Serve” ethos embodies, all the while trainers are watching how applicants listen and interact with other candidates. WWS is watching for respectfulness, motivation, and engagement, key indicators that applicants will be fit for the World Wind & Solar team. “The group interview process is different from most interview processes because we’re really evaluating the personality as well as the specific skillset,” explains Jim Atwood, World Wind & Solar’s Learning & Development Manager.
Candidates that demonstrate a high-caliber of respectfulness, motivation, and engagement in the group interview are then moved to World Wind & Solar’s Labor and Land Management division. While working the grounds with other team members, supervisors watch candidates’ collaboration skills in action – they want to see how applicants troubleshoot together, figure out how to accomplish tasks in a team, and their mindfulness for safety measures.
Because empathy and thoughtfulness are important aspects of World Wind & Solar’s “Here to Serve” culture, trainers are also looking for signs of compassion – do they offer to help carry a heavy load when their colleague is struggling? Do they ask their teammates if they need a bottle of water before fetching one for themselves? “It’s not just, ‘I come to work and I have co-workers,’” Jim Atwood remarks of the company culture. “It’s almost a family-like environment. If I see someone in the company struggling, I’m going to help them, and not just because they are a friend or a colleague, but because they are part of our company family.” The familial comradery helps crews build trust with one another, and an intrinsic need to help others is necessary of any candidate hoping to succeed.
After 30-90 working days in Land Management, trainers evaluate the candidates and decide who should move on to Tech 1 training in the solar and wind divisions.
“Capable crew members know self-leadership.”
The second step of HTR brings the best candidates to WWS Tech 1 training. During training, students begin hands-on learning to study the skills that will be key to their success: basic electrical and mechanical, safety protocols like lock-out/tag-out (LOTO), hydraulics, the fundamentals of equipment engineering, and self-evaluation. This last part is a crucial aspect of the Tech 1 training. “Being a capable crew member means understanding what your proficiency level is with a certain skill,” says Jim Atwood. A seasoned leadership and training professional with a Navy background, Jim teaches students how to determine where their expertise in a task lands, then use that information to either assist, lead, or ask for help. “When technicians fail to realize their level of proficiency, it can lead to errors, which can then result in a reluctance to seek answers,” Jim continues. “I encourage all technicians in the program to never be afraid to ask questions or admit when they don’t have all the necessary training.”
Depending on the candidate’s personal aptitude and their division, Tech 1 training can last a couple of months; the HTR Program doesn’t graduate candidates until they are truly ready to move forward. But once complete, technicians earn certifications in First Aid/CPR/AED, Competent Climber & Tower Rescue, Qualified Electrical Worker, along with OSHA 10 and NFPA 70e.
After passing Tech 1 training, crew members have established themselves as ideal candidates for World Wind & Solar’s wind and solar divisions. Graduates can join whichever division they choose. It is there that they further enhance their knowledge with Tech 2 and Tech 3 trainings, learning advanced mechanical and electrical skills, OEM specific skills, and expertise targeted to wind or solar operations and maintenance.
“This is about more than just a job – we want to help develop careers.”
The third part of HTR is employee retention. To ensure trained and motivated candidates stay with World Wind & Solar, the HTR Program maintains a continuous learning program that keeps team members driven. Jim Atwood regularly conducts job task analyses and speaks with crew members and Lead Technicians to see if there is a knowledge gap that needs to be filled; if there is, he updates trainings accordingly. This ensures that new technologies, skills, and client service best practices are continuously folded into HTR training, creating a learning environment that never stagnates.
Additionally, the HTR Program possesses a vested interest in employees’ careers. There is a defined path for how to rise as a leader at World Wind & Solar, and opportunities and tools are provided along the way to help employees achieve promotion. “The intent behind the HTR Program is, we don’t want to just train you to do your job, we want to help develop a career,” Jim says.
Finally, World Wind & Solar’s open, family-like atmosphere creates a work environment that employees want to be in for the long-haul. Managers consistently ask for honest feedback so the company can help employees in their career journey. “The graduates from the HTR Program tend to stay with us and not job-hop over 50 cents an hour here or there because they recognize that World Wind & Solar is about developing for them a career, and not just a job,” Jim says.
Ian Steele, Solar Division Manager at WWS adds, “Prior to the HTR, our retention rate with workers we hired within the renewable energy industry was about 50/50. These days, after techs participate in HTR, our employee retention rate is 85%.”
The Importance of Hire-Train-Retain
World Wind & Solar’s mission is “To be the industry standard for safety and excellence in service by training, equipping, and deploying an elite workforce who are Here to Serve.” Prior to the development of the HTR Program, candidates came to the company without the comprehensive qualities that are necessary for success in the renewable energy industry, such as physical fortitude, electrical, mechanical and troubleshooting skills, a high-regard for safety and dedicated teamwork. If any of these qualities are missing, it can be extremely dangerous for working crews and will result in poor work quality.
Job site safety was one of the key reasons for the development of the program. When working with electrical equipment and climbing 300-foot high towers, a confidence in ability paired with a safety mindset is crucial. Since the development of the HTR Program, WWS has seen a tremendous decrease in jobsite accidents. Ian Steele notes, “Post HTR, WWS has worked over 700k man-hours without a lost time accident or injury.”
Chase Thomas, an employee at World Wind & Solar and graduate of the Tech 1 training from this past January describes learning how to perform tower rescues. “It was a new experience for me, learning how to save people’s lives if they become incapacitated [while up-tower],” Chase says. “It definitely helped.”
First-rate client service is another important factor that necessitated the HTR Program. One of the best ways to ensure consistent, superior service for clients is to retain trained and motivated employees and to ensure they are set-up for success at every step. Jim Atwood gives a tangible example of the benefits of the HTR Program over other ISP trainings. “The other day, our crew was at a site working on a turbine. They noticed that a previous maintenance worker from another company had dipped their finger in oil and drawn graffiti,” Jim recounts. “Now, our team didn’t technically have to do anything about the graffiti – it wasn’t “part of the job” World Wind & Solar was hired to perform. But instead, our team cleaned it, then reported to the site manager what had happened.” It is this type of going above-and-beyond that the HTR Program strives to instill in crew members.
Additionally, the HTR Program helps with superior and cost-effective client service through reinvestment in the local workforce. When WWS comes into a new region to perform O&M services, the company uses the HTR Program to train local workers instead of transplanting trained workers from other areas. “We are invested in regionalization, which helps us provide better pricing for our clients and develop career paths for local workers, who in turn place monies back into the communities where renewable energies are thriving,” says Ian Steele.
Graduates of the HTR Program describe an all-around positive experience. “I was very impressed by the quality of the training,” says Miguel Mosqueda, a graduate of the Tech 1 training class from this past March. He says he came from the aerospace industry and was inexperienced with renewable energy when he entered the program. However, the patience of the instructors and the lay-out of the training made it possible for him to pick-up on concepts easily and quickly. “It is a great opportunity for young people. The training requires hard work, but anyone who is serious about the program can complete it.”
“The program definitely helps you ‘step-up,’” says Chase Thomas, speaking on how HTR helped him develop his leadership skills. Prior to joining World Wind & Solar, he worked in house electrical maintenance, but hadn’t had the opportunity to be a leader. “Say I get sent out with team members who haven’t been through the process yet – well now I have the confidence and skillset to be the example that World Wind & Solar strives for.” Chase says he is going to learn everything he can about the industry and the World Wind & Solar culture so that he may one day lead a solar O&M crew.
With the HTR Program, World Wind & Solar has built a safe learning environment that gives candidates the tools they need to thrive. Managers and instructors make it agile, relevant, and more comprehensive than the day prior, ensuring a robust education for each incoming class. Advancements in technology are important, but it is programs like HTR – and their commitment to constant learning, open collaboration, and employee development – that will keep the renewable energy industry booming for generations to come.