Focus is changing for strategy and jobs

WORLDWIDE: Despite the US production tax credit extension progressing one small but significant step through Congress last month, time continues to march on to January 2013 and the prospect of wind development without the government subsidy. And job cuts in the US are really beginning to bite.

Recently there has been bad news for wind industry employees. More than 170 job cuts are on the cards at Clipper Wind Power in the US. This move by new owner Platinum Equity is believed to be about restructuring the company globally as much as being about the lapsing US tax credit.

Just days before that announcement, blade maker LM Wind Power cut 234 jobs at its Arkansas manufacturing plant, and troubled turbine giant Vestas confirmed it would lose around 60 staff from the US and Canada, starting at a tower factory in Colorado. Vestas has since announced 1,400 further job losses worldwide.

The fortunes of the job market in the UK are not looking great either this month, with the first major deal for next-generation offshore wind turbines being handed to German Siemens and its Danish production facilities. Suitably skilled employees in developer Dong's home country will pick up the jobs to build turbines that are, nonetheless, destined for projects in UK waters. It's all a legacy of uncertain UK government commitment to wind power.

Meanwhile, in emerging markets preparing for great growth in wind projects, a major shortage of employees is appearing. In South Africa, the government has planned 9GW of wind projects by 2030, and our Windpower Intelligence database reports over 1.3GW in the pipeline and progressing. As the market grows, so will the need for skilled jobs.

These jobs will need to be filled largely by the local population. The government, quite rightly, is tight on local content and it is seeking 80% South African workers. They will need to learn how to build, install and then maintain wind turbines.

The same goes for Brazil, another region with high potential for jobs in wind. Again, there is a local content requirement - albeit through a programme offering cheaper financing from the state-owned development bank. This is pushing manufacturers into setting up production. Again, local staff will need to be trained.

Back in the heartlands of the industry, Europe and the US, growth may be dwindling, but there are many wind turbines operating, thanks to continual growth over the last two decades. And with an economic storm raging, they do not just need to be operating efficiently, they need to be operating more economically - through repowering, better maintenance, or whatever it takes. And these changes won't come with the help of government subsidies. It is down to the industry. In Europe and the US, the technicians, the engineers with ideas and the innovators are being asked to make it happen.

Clipper has had financial issues for some time but despite the job cuts, the firm has said that none of its US plants are to be closed, and that it is developing a sustainable business model that looks more at operations and maintenance. And it is not alone in its shift in focus.

The wind industry is not shrinking,it is changing. And the jobs will be changing too. More maintenance. More measured manufacturing, including in the newer markets. More focus on new technologies. And perhaps a few jobs in training, too.

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