Careers in offshore wind

David Hopwood

Husum preview: As Germany's premier wind event gets under way, we look at the difficulties that companies in the wind sector are having in securing talent.

This article was first published in the July/August issue of Renewable Energy Focus magazine. Click here for free subscription details.

As renewable energy sectors and supply chains scale up, attracting human capital into the industry becomes a crucial task.

A perfect case study is offshore wind, in the UK. A growing industry, but if UK wind ambitions are to be met – a new generation of wind professionals will need to be mobilised.

The UK is currently a world leader in the generation of offshore wind energy; two rounds of site allocations for offshore wind farms comprise around 8GW of generation capacity. And the Government launched a further Round (Round 3) of allocations in 2008, with an additional 25GW of offshore wind energy in mind by 2020. The successful bidders were announced in early 2010, bringing with them a large number of job opportunities for the UK offshore wind industry.

According to Alex Hume, wind energy recruitment consultant at Allen & York, it has been suggested that 45,000 British jobs will be created due to Round 3. But, he cautions, “there currently aren't enough skilled professionals to fill this potential demand within the offshore market, and industry needs to attract professionals with qualifications in Science & Engineering, as well as increase the number of training courses to reduce the barriers of entry into this market.”

Ian Bryan is a development manager at the UK's Crown Estate, with an additional focus on facilitating the development of ‘skills’ within the wind industry. He sees four key job families that employers have identified as being important for future growth:

  • business development staff;
  • engineers – mechanical, structural, civil and electrical;
  • project managers, and
  • technicians.

In addition, regardless of the jobs they will do, he says, people coming into the industry will need to obtain renewable-specific skills: “they need the chance to gain additional experience and qualifications, and they need to be given a general knowledge of the industry.”

Transferable skills

Wind energy companies are increasingly willing to recognise the value of transferable skills and are investing in their own training schemes to support this. One obvious sector that is a target for the wind sector – with a transferable skill set – is the Oil & Gas industry. Oil and gas companies are quick to point out however that oil & gas production is going nowhere for the foreseeable future, and companies in this sector will do their utmost to hang onto their talent pools.

This is a view backed up by Bryan: “They're going to defend their turf, they're going to keep their people, and they're going to continue to incentivise them to stay in that industry, and unlike the wind industry they have the resources to throw at not only sector attractiveness, but also talent acquisition and retention, because oil & gas is an established business with established models, and established communities around them”.

But for the wind farm developers, he continues, life is more complex, because not only have they got new and changing technologies, but they're not always going to be located in places that have a rich community – full of talent that wants to come and learn: “I think the industry can listen and learn from oil and gas in terms of the maturity of some of its structures, continuing professional development for example, but I'm under no doubt that the oil and gas industry itself will compete fiercely for talent in order to make sure that its business stays profitable and sustainable”.

So if attracting talent from under the noses of the oil & gas industry will be difficult, a more long term view is essential, believes Bryan. And that starts with schools and colleges:

“We shouldn't forget where the skills journey starts,” he says. “It starts at schools, with kids who've got their lives ahead of them.” Part of the remit of The Crown Estate, Bryan says, is to work with organisations in the UK to exploit this potential opportunity:

“With the sector skills group from industry wind group RenewableUK, we're considering how we can do outreach better. There are a number of organisations in Scotland such as Inside Industry – funded by a partnership between Scotland's Government and industry – which promotes careers in energy. And in England, I'm aware of an organisation called You Explore, which could be very good for making young people aware of opportunities in the renewable energy sector”.

And Bryan believes this is the key point – the wind industry needs to have a strategy for today, but also begin to focus much more on the long term:

“It has to be a strategy that fills a short to medium-term gap in demand – difficult to be met by school leavers and graduates – but also needs to focus on sector attractiveness, and make sure that younger people are aware of the wide range of career opportunities. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to work in the renewables industry. There are jobs for many, many different types of people with different backgrounds, ranging from logistics operations, right the way through to the top-end skills of wind farm design and optimisation, where top qualifications are needed.”

This two pronged approach is one that is key to the long-term development of the wind industry. As Bryan concludes, “the wind industry currently places a high premium on qualifications and experience, but it's got to get better at bringing people in and helping them grow, particularly young people, because having grey hair and experience only gets you so far as a company. I really believe you can't sustainably grow a business without harnessing the talents and energy of young people”.

About: David Hopwood is Publisher and Editor-at-Large at Renewable Energy Focus.

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Policy, investment and markets  •  Wind power