The renewable energy industry has a huge task ahead recruiting personnel to help achieve net zero targets. For offshore wind to maximise its potential, the industry needs to become much more diverse and better reflect modern communities
The UK is on a journey to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The energy sector will play a vital part in helping it to make this transformational change. But to deliver on this ambition it needs to build a workforce capable of achieving it, as National Grid and RenewableUK highlight.
In January 2020, National Grid launched its Building the Net Zero Energy Workforce Report, which looks at the skills and expertise the energy sector needs. The report identifies a need for 400,000 jobs in the energy industry between now and 2050 to get to net zero.
But as the report also highlights, much more needs to be done to improve diversity in the industry – and attract the next generation of workers – something RenewableUK head of technical affairs Rhys Jones tells OWJ is “essential.”
According to National Grid, the main challenges the energy industry faces include losing existing talent due to a ‘baby boomer’ retirement crunch; competition for skilled workers from other sectors such as finance and technology; a limited pipeline of young people choosing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) qualifications; and that lack of diversity. Competition from other infrastructure projects could be added to that list.
Of the 400,000 roles the report identifies, around 260,000 will be new ones. The remainder will replace those who have left the workforce. “To succeed, we must retain and retrain existing employees, reframe a job in the energy sector as joining the Net Zero Energy Workforce, and inspire the next generation to choose STEM qualifications,” National Grid says.
It highlights that “a diverse workforce in a supportive environment drives success,” but finds that women currently account for only 12% of the engineering workforce.
“At every stage of education, young women are not taking the qualifications they need to become part of the Net Zero Energy Workforce,” it says. “And for those that do pursue a career in the energy sector, too many are lost after career breaks.
Speaking to exclusively to OWJ about the challenges the UK faces finding sufficient personnel to meet the government’s new, highly ambitious target of 40 GW of offshore wind by 2030, Mr Jones says the industry needs 27,000 highly skilled workers by 2030 – more than double the current workforce. But that figure must surely have risen, now the UK target has increased from 30 GW to 40 GW.
He explains that, as part of the Offshore Wind Sector Deal agreed by industry and government in 2019, the offshore wind industry has set up a task force, the Investment in Talent group, led by RenewableUK’s chief executive Hugh McNeal.
“This group is developing and implementing pathways to ensure we attract a wide and diverse range of entrants into our sector,” Mr Jones explains. “We are working closely with training providers up and down the country to ensure courses are available at every level, for our future wind turbine technicians, project managers and engineers.
“We want the offshore wind industry to be the number one choice for STEM graduates. The group includes representatives from leading companies in the sector and from the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments, as well as trade associations and academic institutions, working together to ensure we can attract the next generation of our offshore wind workforce.”
“We need to work with education providers to further develop apprenticeships and training to provide the skills and knowledge which are the keys to long-term employment,” Mr Jones says. “It is also vital we maximise our talent pool by ensuring the workforce reflects our communities in terms of diversity.”
Asked what efforts are underway in the UK offshore wind industry to recruit more black and ethnic minorities into offshore wind, Mr Jones says the industry will be setting a target to recruit more people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.
To achieve all these objectives, the talent group is developing a route map for success. This includes providing online information, including pathways into the industry, new guidelines on standards for recruitment and accreditation, and continuing to raise the profile of female and BAME workers through speaking opportunities with initiatives such as POWERFul Women, WISE and others. “We are also identifying and implementing best practice from other industries and raising awareness with education providers of the importance that is placed on BAME and gender balance in this industry,” Mr Jones says.
Asked whether the 40 GW target is ‘do-able’ given the need to recruit so many people, Mr Jones says, “We need contract for difference auctions to continue on a regular basis and we are asking government to review the frequency and structure of the auctions to maximise deployment, as well as encouraging investment in the UK supply chain.”
The UK’s need to recruit large numbers of people is mirrored in other countries, including the Netherlands, where a 2019 report commissioned by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency and TKI Wind op Zee also looked at the level of recruitment needed by 2030. The report concluded that, as in the UK, action was need in education, industry and by government to meet the needs of the industry.
The Netherlands Wind Energy Association estimates that more than 2,500 people will need to be recruited by the offshore wind industry in the next five years. Re-skilling workers from the offshore oil and gas industry is seen as a short-term solution to fill the upcoming human capital gap but engaging with the next generation is better a long-term solution, says Atlas Professionals renewables manager Joost Pellis.
“We cannot rely on re-skilling workers from other industries as a long-term solution,” Mr Pellis says, “not least because the offshore oil and gas industry can offer higher rates of pay than wind.
“We are already noticing that oil and gas professionals are returning to the sector as activity there picks up,” he says. “We need other solutions and we need to increase awareness among young people of careers in renewables.”
Mr Pellis says it can be ‘difficult’ to recruit Dutch workers for offshore installation work because it is not seen as a long-term career path. Many installation jobs are filled by non-Dutch workers who quickly move on to a similar job elsewhere. He suggests that operations and maintenance can provide better long-term employment opportunities for Dutch nationals, including those in coastal communities where employment opportunities have sometimes been in short supply. The problem is that remuneration on a crew transfer vessel compares poorly with salaries achievable in oil and gas. Decommissioning projects in the North Sea are picking up too, he says, further driving demand in the oil and gas sector.
One solution could be actively recruiting former military personnel. Many former service men and women have basic mechanical skills and could bring to offshore wind “the right mindset” and a high-level of attention to health and safety issues, Mr Pellis concludes.
Recruitment closely linked to local content
Building 40 GW of offshore wind by 2030 is do-able, a leading economics consultant believes. Cambridge Econometrics associate director Jon Stenning tells OWJ he believes the political will is there to enable the UK to reach 40 GW by 2030, but it is less clear whether UK businesses will benefit.
“There is scope for 40 GW to be delivered,” he tells OWJ. “The question is whether UK employment will benefit. Will the policies be put in place to enable SMEs to develop? Will the labour market be able to respond to the scale of the opportunity and will companies have the right skills?”
In Mr Stenning’s view, much more needs to be done to ensure British companies have the right skills to meet net zero targets. “They need certainty and a pipeline of work if they are to recruit people and bring on the skills that are going to be required,” he says.