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How to speed up the learning curve

WORLDWIDE: The continued growth of the global wind industry means a demand for appropriately skilled and trained professionals at each stage of the production value chain.

It is therefore essential that clear routes into the industry exist and continue to be nurtured.

According to a survey conducted by Windpower Monthly for its 2012 onshore careers guide, there appears to be no standard route into the business despite the specialist nature of much of the work. Only one third of survey respondents undertook wind power-specific graduate education and only one quarter came from other energy sectors.

The offshore wind sector presents many of the challenges faced over the past four decades by the offshore oil and gas industry. As a result, many of the courses and training options available are based on the experience gained in this sector.

Degree developments

University courses offering wind-specific energy qualifications are becoming available across the world, but especially in North America and Europe. On-the-job training solutions too are attempting to plug the skills gap alongside recruitment firms that focus on attracting professionals with transferable skills.

In the UK for example, 13 universities are offering postgraduate wind-energy degrees. One of those is Cranfield University, which claims to be Europe's largest centre for applied research, development and design. It offers two industry-relevant postgraduate degrees, one in renewable-energy technology and the other in offshore renewable energy.

The offshore option includes core modules in corrosion inspection, technology, management, safety, risk and reliability in the offshore environment. Optional modules available are materials modelling and failure, pipeline design and installation, reliability engineering and asset risk management, and subsea exploration.

Five US universities are offering first degrees, including Texas Tech (see box overleaf). Three offer postgraduate degrees and three offer doctorates.

Industry-specific certificates are on offer at universities, colleges and renewable-energy companies and organisations all over the world, including through consultancies such as GL Garrad Hassan.

Workforce training is another worthwhile way to ensure the skills gap is closed. One company, DNV, originally from Norway but now with offices worldwide, has two separate wind-energy programmes. One is a contract with the US Department of Energy aimed at engineering and science graduates, professionals with experience in other industries, and government officials or policymakers. The training includes wind resource and energy assessment, wind turbine technology, feasibility studies and project economics.

DNV has also set up an internal training programme covering both onshore and offshore wind projects. It combines video learning with field trips and involves participation in an online community. Ruth Heffernan Marsh, DNV's project manager, says: "By developing these new training initiatives, we hope to help the industry meet the challenges of the lack of trained personnel and therefore cope with its anticipated growth."

Many organisations, especially in offshore wind hubs like Denmark and Germany, provide intensive training to new recruits from other sectors to bring them up to speed in offshore wind, says Katie Baxter, a manager at Hays Energy, a leading renewable-energy recruitment business based in London.

Albrecht Tiedemann, director of wind and grid at Berlin's Renewables Academy, is confident that wind will play an even more important role after Germany's decision to phase out nuclear energy. More people with the right skills will be needed as a result. "More than 85,000 people already work in the German wind-energy industry and about 170,000 in Europe as a whole," he says. "To secure future growth, the development of precisely tailored qualification measures is crucial."

Transferable skills

Strong demand for offshore wind-energy construction project teams has meant that Hays Energy now has more vacancies than individuals with the required skills and experience.

Most of the professionals joining the offshore wind energy sector come from the oil and gas industry, says Baxter. "There is common ground when it comes to civil engineering skills and both sectors require professionals who have the ability to undertake construction activities in adverse conditions, such as laying cable, lifting and installation, and who have knowledge of marine legislation," she says. "However, many energy-related organisations really struggle to attract these professionals because of the high salaries offered in the oil and gas industry."

Baxter adds that other good sources of candidates because of their transferable skills are the Royal Navy and power-generation industries where there are individuals with experience in health and safety, project engineering and management, grid connection, turbine construction and installation.

Whichever entry route wind-industry professionals take in the years to come - via a dedicated wind-energy degree or through a less direct path - getting the right people in place is just as crucial to wind's future as getting the funding in place, the technology right and the supply chain working.

A list of available courses is available in Windpower Monthly's Careers Guides. See windpowermonthly.com

VOICES OF THE FUTURE WHY STUDENTS AT TEXAS TECH HAVE CHOSEN A WIND-ENERGY CAREER PATH

Last autumn Texas Tech University in the US began to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in wind energy that uses a multi-disciplinary format instead of focusing on educating engineers and technicians.

The curriculum, with courses ranging from design and construction to policy and atmospheric science and research, aims to qualify graduates for a career in the wind-energy industry.

Here is what Texas Tech's wind programme students say about the courses on offer and where their qualifications will take them.

"I got an internship at (quality and safety consultancy) Intertek working on a small turbine-testing facility. I hope to get another internship this summer in Australia. I am attracted to the industry by the fact that it is new and growing, and offers a global effort to lessen our planet's carbon footprint."

Mark Meng, 23

"I was attracted by the opportunity to be part of the US clean-energy future, and the excitement of seeing wind turbines in my home town in Texas. One of the biggest challenges facing the industry is opposition from many powerful people, and negative attitudes to any new energy provider from the public. We also have to demonstrate that viable renewable energy isn't just a pipedream."

Kyle Jay, 21

"I have always been interested in wind energy, so when the programme came around I jumped at the opportunity. There are very few people out there that really understand the wind-energy field. I think the biggest hurdle facing the industry is the cost of the technologies needed to develop it."

R Patterson, 26

"I was attracted to the wind industry because it would use my best skills and because I wanted to be part of the energy future. I want to help in the design of new technologies, and work with other international leaders in energy."

Novella Landau, 19

"I wanted a career that would offer financial security and also make an impact. These objectives fit well with the wind industry."

Loren Page, 19

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