A newly-published study suggests that by 2032, the UK will need 36,000 people employed in the offshore wind sector, triple the number currently working in it. Where will they come from?
The UK leads the world in developing and constructing offshore windfarms. Significant further growth in the sector is anticipated, but where will the people come from who will design, construct and maintain all of the offshore windfarms the UK expects to build in the next decade?
Some of the answers to that question are provided by Aura (an initiative at the University of Hull on the northeast coast of the UK) and its partners, who launched a report, Skills and Labour Requirements of the UK Offshore Wind Industry 2018 to 2032 in October, a national study with a focus on the Humber region.
The study, funded by the Regional Growth Fund Green Port Growth Programme and carried out by Energy & Utility Skills, is based on a review of existing and new quantitative data, as well as a qualitative input from leading offshore wind organisations. It sets out the extent of the workforce supply and demand requirements over the next 15 years.
It takes as its start point the fact that the offshore wind industry is growing rapidly and is on its way to becoming a mainstream provider of low-carbon electricity for the country, helping to ensure the UK meets its climate change targets. But to deliver on the ambitions the industry has set itself, it is going to need many more skilled people to join its workforce.
Based on government and industry estimates that installed offshore wind capacity in the UK could be 35 GW, or five times its existing level by 2032, the study’s main findings include that the requirement for workers is set to increase from 10,000 today to 36,000 by 2032; that the sector will be operating in a very tight labour market over the coming years and there will be fierce competition for talent; and that skills shortages could become more prevalent and the industry is going to need a wide range of skills sets – from asset management, leadership, engineering and scientists through to the softer skills such as team working and problem solving.
The report also found that the industry needs to work with the educational system now to ensure the right skills and talents come through the system at all levels over the coming years – from schools and apprenticeships to higher education and continual professional development for those already well along in their careers; and many of the job opportunities will be focused on the east coast of the UK where the windfarms are located.
Commenting on the publication of the findings, the Aura talent and skills lead John Weir said, “The publication of this skills study today is very timely and sets out the exciting career opportunities the offshore wind industry presents for those interested in working for the renewable energy industry, whether for those of us already well established in our careers or those just considering where to invest their talents and recently acquired qualifications.
“We must ensure that the talent pipeline, which starts with 14-year-olds at school now, is able to provide the sector with the skilled workforce we are going to need over the next decade or so.”
Energy & Utility Skills workforce planning consultant Rob Murphy, the author of the report, said it was clear from the data analysis and interviews with industry experts that the offshore wind industry has great potential to be both a substantial provider of low carbon energy and a significant regional employer – but there are many challenges to overcome to ensure there is a sufficiently resilient workforce. “This report sets out the challenges and makes recommendations to address them,” he said. “If the true potential of the offshore wind industry is to be unlocked, a more co-ordinated approach is needed – one that brings together businesses from across the supply chain, skills providers at all levels, regional and national government and the full range of support agencies.”
Writing in the foreword to the report, RenewableUK chief executive Hugh McNeal said “As an industry, we have set ourselves some very ambitious targets which we have set out in the offshore wind Sector Deal prospectus. Tens of thousands of new jobs will be created as offshore wind becomes the backbone of a clean, reliable and affordable energy system.
“The UK is leading the world in offshore wind, with more installed capacity than any other country. We need to retain this position by continuing our investment in innovation and we can only do that with inspired and creative people.”
He highlighted that fast growth in the offshore wind industry will mean the sector is going to have to compete against others to attract talented people. He said too few school leavers are choosing the subjects needed to work in an industry driven by technology, such as offshore wind. He noted that the UK is already short of approximately 20,000 engineering graduates per year. “We need to change that,” said Mr McNeal.
He also noted that the offshore wind industry wants to become a leading industry for diversity and inclusion. “We want to be the industry of choice for women and black, Asian and minority ethnic workers who want a career in a science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sector,” he explained.
“We will be proactive in ensuring more females progress their studies of STEM subjects post-16. Only 35% of post-16 females study STEM subjects such as maths, physics, computing or a technical vocational qualification (compared to 94% of post-16 males). This is despite females accounting for 50% of STEM students at GCSE level.”
Mr McNeal said the study demonstrated the importance of delivering a sector-wide strategy to standardise education and skills training to support clear career pathways and qualifications for all levels across the industry. “Education provision is fragmented and unco-ordinated in the UK today,” he said. “We want to make it easier for people to work within the industry and supply chain, and to transfer from other industries and professions.
“We are still a young and pioneering sector and we need to build on that to ensure we keep our dominant position in the world. We need a highly skilled, diverse and motivated workforce to deliver innovative technologies that drive decarbonisation across the economy in the coming decades.”
According to Aura, 265,000 skilled entrants are needed each year to meet the demands from engineering companies through to 2024. It is predicted there could be a shortfall of 20,000 engineering graduates per year across the UK.
Significant shifts are predicted to occur over the coming years (such as those caused by Brexit and other new technologies) and these will need to be recognised and adapted to by businesses. In 2015, 36% of vacancies in the energy sector were classified as skills shortages, the highest proportion in any sector and it is unlikely this situation will ease given the high level of investment planned for the UK infrastructure sector and the continued demand for skilled labour.