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Building a career in offshore wind

WORLDWIDE: The offshore wind sector is a young industry that is growing fast. Unsurprisingly this small sector is attracting a great deal of interest on the careers market.

Most offshore work is off Europe, but jobs are picking up around Asia and North America
Most offshore work is off Europe, but jobs are picking up around Asia and North America

But what is it like to work in offshore wind? Are pay and conditions so very different from the onshore wind sector? What kind of jobs are out there, and where is the experience coming from? Windpower Monthly has asked its readers about their jobs, their careers and their pay. With their answers we are able
to present a snapshot of life offshore, and how it
appears to be shaping up as a career choice on its own and in comparison with its older sister, the onshore wind industry. As we gather data year on year, we hope to be able to build up an increasingly sophisticated picture of the changing fortunes of both offshore and onshore wind-power industries.

Out of the 402 people who took part in the survey overall, about one quarter of the respondents said they work primarily in the offshore sector, and it is their answers we are looking at here.

Previous experience pays

Generally, people working in the offshore wind-power sector appear to be relatively well remunerated for their work. Salaries recorded by our respondents, largely based in Europe and with few stating more than five years' experience in the sector, show a median salary of €58,000, and more respondents' earnings falling within the €50,000s than any other salary bracket.

For those who earn €60,000 or more, half reported having worked previously in a related sector such as oil and gas, coal, hydro or maritime. And seven of the top ten highest earners came from oil and gas — a clear winner in the salary progression stakes.

Employees who have been in the same job for the last year have not all fared well with pay rises. While 20% received no increase, 40% of those sticking with their job were given an increase below 5% — a rise that may not match their country's inflation rate.A clearer pay rise is seen for 32% who received from five to under 25%, and almost 10% of respondents saw their loyalty very well rewarded with a pay rise of at least one quarter of their salary.

Those who are chasing the top salaries should not feel restricted by their choice of employer — a wide range of employers appear to be delivering high-end salaries. Utilities feature most prominently for our best-paid respondents, closely followed by an equal measure of engineering, consultancy and wind-farm
installation businesses.

Click here for jobs survey charts

In return for their decent remuneration, offshore wind-power employees appear to work hard. The average number of contractually agreed working hours stand at just over 40 per week, but overtime is commonplace, with 70% of respondents routinely working beyond their contracted weekly hours. According to the Windpower Monthly survey, 30% of employees in the offshore sector work up to five hours' overtime a week, 19% do up to ten extra hours a week, and 20% put in more than 10 hours of overtime.

Time working away is significant in this industry it appears, and perhaps another reason for the good pay rates, with 68% reporting extended periods working away from home. Among these are records of working away all week, four weeks in six, and most of the time.

Yet, despite the long hours, quality of life remains important. Only 1.5% of respondents claim that work-life balance is not important, with a much greater 41.5% saying it is very important. The survey also reveals that offshore workers are not motivated purely by financial gain, with over 56% saying they would trade in part of the value of their salaries for benefits such as increased maternity/paternity leave, extra annual holiday entitlement or a free gym.

Overall, respondents seem happy with their lot, suggesting that, by and large, they are treated well in the workplace and foresee a promising future for the offshore sector, despite the many challenges it faces: almost 78% of respondents expect still to be working in the wind industry in five years' time, although only 31.6% expect to be with the same company. More than 50% of the respondents say that they are not sure whom they will be working for.

European bias

Comparing responses from different geographical regions illustrates the offshore wind sector's relative state of development around the world. Around 80% of the survey respondents who work in offshore are based in Europe, the world's leading region for offshore wind-power generation. The second biggest region to employ offshore personnel is Asia Pacific with a much smaller figure of 9%. And almost 7% of our survey's offshore respondents are from North America.

Although this region as yet has no installed offshore wind projects, it has big plans to develop an offshore sector, which appears to be reflected in the fact that most respondents are working in technology and engineering. No responses were received from Africa, the Middle East or South America.

Job functions

The survey respondents were asked to categorise their company's business sector. The results show a fairly even split across the top-three most common business types — consultancies, wind-farm installation businesses and engineering firms. Yet, when asked to describe their own specific job function, engineering came out a clear winner, indicating that within these three business sectors, engineers are high on their list of employees. This suggests that engineers working in offshore wind have an enviable choice of employer.

Project management, the second most common job function, is attributed to almost 18% of the respondents. Other manager roles follow, and jobs with specialisms such as research and development, scientific and technical focus cover around 9% of the job functions.

As last year's survey of the overall wind-power industry revealed, this is a heavily male-dominated sector, with an 81-19% split between men and women. If anything, the offshore sector appears to be even more unbalanced in terms of gender — 93% of those who responded to our offshore survey are men, and only 7% women. All the female respondents are based in Europe.

As one might expect of a fledgling industry, the workforce in the offshore wind sector is comparatively young. Overall, almost 64% of respondents are under 40 years old. But, while numbers in age categories reduce further as age increases, we see a resurgence in the professionals aged 51 and over, which seems to indicate a demand for maturity and experience in an otherwise young industry.

Conclusion

The results given by our respondents show what might be described as a typical frontier business in a state of growth. It is comparatively youthful, yet with a core of older, well-experienced personnel. It is also heavily male-dominated, more so even than the now relatively well-established onshore wind sector (see below). Hard work is clearly expected and given, but appears to be fairly rewarded. And engineering is a key role.

The confidence of respondents that they will still be working in offshore in five years indicates that the sector is expected to flourish. Our findings show that for conscientious, skilled professionals who want to receive if not riches than at least fair recompense for their efforts, the offshore sector offers a promising future.

 

THE EARNING DIFFERENTIAL – EARLY SIGNS SHOW HIGHER REWARDS FOR OFFSHORE WORK

The responses from our careers survey of both onshore and offshore employees reveal that the wind industry is still heavily skewed towards onshore development, with an overwhelming 76.2% of respondents saying they are primarily involved in this sector.

Yet that is not to say that onshore wind is better rewarded than its offshore counterpart. In fact, those respondents who reported working predominantly for the offshore sector show that they earn some €10,000 a year more than that enjoyed in onshore wind. The median salary recorded for onshore employees is around €47,000 compared with offshore’s €58,000.

This pay differential perhaps reflects the fact that offshore wind is still a relatively new sector commanding higher rewards because of the search for skills and the potential risk in a newer and less well-known industry.

Salary increases were less noticeable in the onshore sector responses, with only 72% being given any rise, compared with 80% in the offshore sector. But if you discount the potentially insignificant increases of below 5% of the employee’s salary, a similar proportion in both sectors were rewarded for staying in their job. Again, it may be the relative immaturity of the offshore industry that is responsible for a greater disparity in the amount of the biggest pay rises, with 9.5% of offshore workers being awarded a massive pay rise of 25% or more compared with just 6% of onshore respondents.

Onshore professionals appear to work a bit harder for their money too. The average contracted hours worked in the onshore sector are slightly higher than offshore — just over 41 compared with just over 40. And employees in onshore wind also work more overtime, with 25% of respondents saying they put in ten hours or more over and above their contracted hours per week, compared with just 20% of offshore respondents.

Although not as pronounced as offshore’s 93-7% split, the onshore wind sector has a clear gender imbalance, with an 86.3-13.7% male-female split. There is, however, a marginally greater geographical spread of women in the onshore sector, with small numbers of female respondents from Europe, North America, South America and Asia Pacific, compared with just Europe for the offshore sector.

While the offshore sector appears to attract a relatively young demographic, there is an even more pronounced youthfulness in the onshore sector, with over 70% of those respondents aged 40 or under compared with almost 64% from the offshore sector. In the onshore sector, 26-30 year-olds form the largest overall proportion of respondents (27.3%), while in offshore, the modal group is 36-40. Onshore also has a lower proportion of professionals over 51 — 10.2% compared with 16.9% in offshore.

Both sectors popular

Given the huge growth in the global wind market in the past five years, it is perhaps not surprising that the largest proportion of professionals from both sectors (around half) say they have joined the industry in that time. And as with offshore, onshore professionals appear to foresee a promising future career in the wind industry, with a comparable proportion from each sector — around three quarters — saying that they envisage still being in the wind sector five years from now.

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