Offshore wind jobs: Skills shortage is a potential bottleneck for growth

OW15_spread.jpg 44 0With 40GW installed power still expected to come on stream by 2020 and even 150GW by 2030, the offshore wind sector is well aware that something needs to be done to prevent a severe skills shortage in the industry.

In the first real analysis of the scale of the problem the European Union’s Wind Energy Technology Platform (TPWind) produced a revealing report about possible barriers to getting enough people into the onshore and offshore wind industry and it gives estimates about likely shortfalls and outlines training opportunities. To be issued after the summer, the report is entitled ‘European Wind Energy Training Needs, Opportunities and Recommendations’.

OW15_spread.jpg 44 1Currently, some 249,000 people are employed in the overall wind industry and 58,000 in the offshore sector. Angeliki Koulouri, European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) Research Officer, says some 60% of the total are involved in manufacturing turbines and components. The next largest category concerns the development side of the business and then there are the service providers. EWEA coordinates and hosts the TPWind Secretariat.

Given the ambitious wind energy targets in Europe around 40,000 suitably qualified personnel need to enter the sector each year, she says. But given the terrific growth of the sector, it is estimated that there will be a significant gap between demand and supply. So there is certainly room for improvement, says Filippo Gagliardi, EWEA Project Manager and TPWind Secretary General.

The report concluded that currently there is a shortage of 7,000 full-time equivalents and this will rise to 10,000 in 2020 and 15,000 by 2030. And worryingly, that well over half of the shortfall in new workers in 2030 could be in Operations & Maintenance. Engineers are in desperately short supply and the problem will get far worse, the report warned.

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“It is difficult to make exact predictions considering the rapid growth in the industry and the uncertain economic conditions we are facing. We have been conservative. But demand will only increase over time and there is particular concern in the O&M sector,” stresses Mr Gagliardi.

The TPWind report makes several key recommendations. It is crucial to increase the number of people getting degrees and vocational training in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. This is important because of the demographics and ageing population with many engineers retiring, he says. “They are not being replaced quickly enough and this problem will only become.

There needs to be an increase of industry input into academic courses and a closer partnership between academia and the industry. Mr Gagliardi says: “Because the industry is moving so fast it is difficult for teaching staff to keep up with developments and this means that the right type of training is not always being offered.”

The industry would welcome the chance to work more closely with educational institutes and perhaps dedicated courses could be developed jointly and key industry figures could lecture on these courses, he adds.

– The report recommends that more graduates need to study wind energy courses especially because of the demand for project management. There should also be more vocational in-house training, working with companies in the industry.

– Vocational education and training needs to be harmonised where possible and there needs to be a greater level of industry participation. Standard modules could be developed across Europe, then it would make it much easier for the industry to adapt quickly to different markets and situations (for example, in new markets the emphasis is usually more on manufacturing than O&M).

– And finally, there needs to be much more emphasis on O&M because this is clearly the area with the highest shortages.

However, there was also plenty of good news Mr Gagliardi stresses. He says that interviews with industry representatives show that the sector does not have to develop new competencies, it is just a question of using existing skills which already exist in other industries. “We do not need to create new skills so realising these challenges is feasible.”

There are a lot of opportunities led by industry and training centers and several EU-funded projects in vocational training but the engagement of all the stakeholders is the only way forward, adds Mrs Koulouri.

“We continue to inform people about the great potential of the industry. EWEA is also taking the initiative and will hold a Career Day at this autumn’s EWEA OFFSHORE 2013 event, which will take place in Frankfurt,” says Mr Gagliardi.

“Even though there are issues of concern, the industry appears confident that these can be addressed. We know the skills shortage is one of the potential bottlenecks for growth so we are preparing for this in time. The report is one of the first steps to tackle this problem,” says Mr Gagliardi.

Undoubtedly this is a dynamic, young industry and more jobs are being created. This in turn, has a political impact because job creation is important for any politician. We believe we will manage to find the right people.”

“And if looking at projections from the European Commission, such as the EU 2050 Roadmap, wind energy will be the backbone of the European energy system and will play a leading role in economic growth.”

Helen Hill