tom hopkinson

Wind sector needs re-focus on ‘hard to fill roles’

Expert in the renewables labour market, Tom Hopkinson, kicks off his new blog on Renewable Energy Magazine with a look at where the skills gaps lie in the wind industry.
Wind sector needs re-focus on ‘hard to fill roles’

We have heard a lot over the last few months about shortages of skilled roles across the wind energy sector. I myself have banged this drum for long enough – but despite the obvious importance of generating new talent at the ‘technical’ level, we must not do this at the expense of harder to fill roles, particularly senior management.

Efforts to train skilled workers have spiked in the last year, but I believe we are aiming our resources too low and are not adequately addressing a swelling skills crisis at senior manager level.

Renewable UK announced in their recent ‘State of the Industry’ report, that green energy employers are struggling to fill 25 per cent of these harder to fill roles at mid to senior management level, compared with 3 per cent in 2008. The message is simple - we have to start looking at the situation holistically, and address shortages at both ends of the scale.

It seems that many training schemes are currently aimed at the technician level, and according to many of the companies we speak to on a daily basis, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find managers capable of overseeing complex areas such as offshore health and safety, logistics or operations and maintenance.

In addition, all new recruits will need to spend some time shadowing senior employees. If the figures are correct, the projected boom in employment will put pressure on even the largest utilities to find suitable experienced staff to manage this period of ‘buddying’. So we expect to see a level of saturation within major wind energy organisations, as well as within the market as a whole.

We must find solutions to this problem now, or certainly before 2013/2014, when there will be a spike in demand for managers to oversee the burgeoning offshore wind industry. In parts of the UK we are already reaching saturation in terms of the available ‘management’ skills base, particularly in Scotland. Once we reach 2013/2014 then things will really begin to bite. Unless we prepare ourselves now we may have to find other solutions, such as importing skills from Denmark or Germany. This would be disastrous for the UK economy and our hopes of reducing high unemployment levels.

So what is the best way forward? I think it is naive to believe that we can rely on the North Sea oil and gas industry to supply the talent we need. Salaries provided by wind energy firms are often below those offered by the oil heavyweights, and we will not see parity for at least ten years.

In fact this is one of the major issues we face as a recruiter when trying to draw talent from other sectors.

Furthermore, the oil and gas industry operates in a ‘contract culture’. In the wind sector they are looking for permanent employees. To attract someone from a contract role to a permanent role is very expensive – for example O&G employees are earning £600 a day on a contract basis while wind energy firms are offering £60,000 a year.

I believe that operators in the nine offshore sites set out by the Crown Estate should work more closely together to identify senior management shortages. This will also motivate private sector training providers to address the gap. Through pooling resources and accrediting courses the risk involved for those seeking to transfer their skills to the wind sector will be reduced, making the prospect far more attractive.

Today the training market at management level is fragmented and this needs to be addressed; firstly, by putting the right messages across to the private training providers on how they become accredited and the resources required to do so and then, by supporting those companies with a free flow of information and open communication that will ensure the courses are fit for purpose.

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