The number of new workers required by the European offshore wind industry is expected to soar between 2015 and 2020, but there is no sign yet that the industry’s biggest players are coordinating efforts to ensure a sufficient flow of candidates with the right skills.
Offshore wind insiders widely agree that finding workers with the right combination of skills is already challenging. Many lament the dearth of candidates with the necessary multidisciplinary experience. Nevertheless, leading offshore wind players do not yet have a forum to discuss issues such as common training standards, according to Vattenfall’s Steve Andrews.
Andrews is site manager for Vattenfall’s newly-inaugurated 150MW Ormonde project, and particpated in a panel about future recruitment challenges, at Windpower Events’ offshore O&M conference earlier this week.
Offshore wind will be competing with other sectors for workers, among them, automotive and offshore oil and gas, argued Andrews. While many colleges are keen to develop renewable energy-specific training courses, offshore wind employers do not generally see themselves as requiring renewable energy ‘experts’.
Instead, they are seeking multi-skilled workers – people with electrical and mechanical engineering experience, not one or the other, said Andrews.
"We need people with IT, hydraulics and high voltage skills," explained Kristof Verlinden, O&M asset & production manager for Belgian offshore wind owner, Belwind. "We have a problem finding people with broad-spectrum skills and Belwind can’t afford to pay offshore oil and gas prices of €1,200-1,500/ day."
Engineering has a low – in some cases, a poor – image among young people in the UK, pointed out Vattenfall’s Andrews. He believes that offshore wind engineers need to inspire children, by showing them the advantages of marine-based technical jobs in order that the emergence of the next generation of workers is assured.
Others on the panel agreed, with the Crown Estate’s head of offshore wind, Huub den Rooijen, arguing that the appeal of offshore wind jobs needed to be better communicated. "Are we advertising offshore wind roles as the exciting jobs that they are?" he asked. "We need to sell the excitement we feel when we stand on a vessel heading out to the wind farm."
Offshore wind roles can offer the adventure of marine work, without long periods away from home and family, noted Belwind’s Verlinden. "We look for local people who want the adventure of working at sea, but who aren’t cowboys," he said. "We can offer people an offshore job that is exciting, but they can also be home with their families at night.