Opinion: How do we find 70,000 skilled workers offshore wind urgently needs?

A three-pronged approach is required, including seeking people with transferable skills as well as a diverse workforce

The offshore wind sector needs 70,000 skilled workers but where do we find them, asks Robert Fradley

The UK government’s Energy Security Strategy indicates we will produce up to 50GW of offshore electricity by 2030 which will come with challenges, including how we intend to resource this scale-up. 

When you hear that 70,000 UK skilled workers are required to close the gap in order to meet the challenges of climate change and accelerate the move to a decarbonised future, it feels slightly overwhelming. Even on current capacity levels, it is hard to ignore the increasing strain on talent pools and the impending skills gap within the sector. 

Offshore wind in the UK currently employs 26,000 people which means that, to meet this target, employment needs to increase by 170% by 2026.  It’s crucial that we increase the size of the workforce, but sadly there is no quick fix to this problem and no one-size-fits-all solution.

Transferable skills 

Nevertheless, there are options which include exploring other sectors such as oil and gas. With more than 30,000 people directly employed in the offshore oil and gas industry across the UK in 2019, there is huge potential here especially given the training and expertise required to work in this environment. The benefit of their knowledge base comes with age, so recruiting this wealth of experience in oil and gas must be viewed as a positive for the industry. In addition, exploring the vast number of former military personnel available with transferable project management skills is also a promising avenue. 

A survey by Scottish Renewables found that more than 75% of offshore oil and gas workers would move between sectors, with half stating their first choice would be a switch to wind energy - which is encouraging. 

Education, training and apprenticeships 

We need to fully understand the current situation, the potential gaps and the requirements for future skills. This should form part of the national curriculum and see the establishment of training programmes. Offshore wind businesses should be working with educational bodies to inspire the next generation and educate them on opportunities in offshore wind, such as apprenticeship schemes and graduate programmes. The industry should also work with trade bodies to lobby governments to provide more support for the skills transition. This is an exciting sector to work in and the next generation need to understand that.

Greta Thunberg mobilised and encouraged young people to join her cause and at the height of her movement, Energy Live News reported that nearly a quarter of young people were looking to pursue green careers. 

To support this interest, it’s encouraging to see that a standalone GCSE will be introduced by 2025. Pupils between 14-16 years old will have the option to of taking a new natural history GCSE focused on protecting the planet. A step in the right direction. 

A diverse workforce

Pre-covid, The Offshore Wind Energy Council announced that the offshore wind industry aims to employ 3,000 apprentices and a more diverse workforce by 2030. A target which still stands today. 

By encouraging more diversity in the industry this will maximise talent-driven innovation and can even boost productivity. Women make up over half of the UK population, but only 12% of engineering professionals. It’s no secret that the most diverse companies are more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability, so the offshore wind industry needs to address diversity to compete for future talent. 

Re-skilling, apprenticeships, and training programmes can all play a huge part in encouraging more women and ethnic minorities into the industry. Education plays a key role, long-term, and we need to improve the representation of young girls in STEM subjects by providing a clear and stimulating pathway to pursue inclusive careers in offshore wind.

Challenges and opportunities

It is clear the rapid growth in offshore wind development, leading to a sharp increase in more jobs being created, is set to add extra pressure on the current talent pipeline but it also presents opportunities.  

We are in a fortunate position to identify the right solutions that can make a positive impact on the structure of the future offshore wind workforce. By sharing the same mindset and collaborating, government, industry and academia can deliver ongoing employment and economic growth, from the transfer of skills to training, through to core education to find the short and long-term solutions needed to secure a skilled workforce capable of delivering the UK’s net zero target.

Robert Fradley is head of offshore wind UK & Ireland at RES