The East is on the brink of a wind-power revolution, with a number of major offshore farms poised for permission.
This is going to create a significant volume of jobs directly and within the accompanying supply chain, but where will this new workforce come from and who are employers looking for?
The precise numbers and nature of who the offshore wind sector will employ becomes clearer this autumn as more wind farms win permission.
A study is also being carried out to map the employment needs by examining the numbers of people and skills required. In the meantime, preparation is needed to ensure the workforce is equipped to meet industry needs, along with sharing the message to potential employees.
This work is already well under way within those applying to operate windfarms and manning the supply chain. Educational institutions are playing their part. East Coast College, which has campuses in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, has set up the Offshore Wind Skills Centre, which aims to help local people re-skill and find new jobs in the industry.
Rachel Bunn, the college’s assistant principal, said the centre boasts some success stories. “We continue to work with the wind sector to ensure that we can have a robust pipeline of skills and retraining. In Phase 1, the provision was focused on the opportunities surrounding wind technician roles. Following feedback, Phase 2 will also support delegates who do not have historical engineering experience through the provision of a new Engineering Skills pathway.”
Rachel said the centre also looks long-term: “The sector has got longevity. This is not a short project. There is the growth around East Anglia offshore wind but there is also the maintenance that will be needed for years to come. Even when the turbines are working, they will need that work on them to help with efficiency.”
So where will these people come from?
Around a fifth of employees in the sector are former services personnel. Companies believe they have the traits which make them ideal for the profession and want to build on this as the sector continues to grow.
It is not just an anecdotal pledge. The industry made a strong commitment to support former forces personnel as part of the Offshore Wind Sector Deal, a joint agreement between the industry and the government.
Offshore skills professional Celia Anderson has extensive experience of working with the military in the offshore industry. She explained: “Every job does require some experience and some training, but the reality is that ex-service personnel come in with experience in logistics, project management and engineering.
“There is the old adage ‘You recruit on attitude. You can train skills.’ They also have the ability to trouble-shoot. In the military, you do not walk past a problem for obvious reasons. Health and safety important, they will work until the job is done, and they are quick to learn.
“If you think of the culture in which they have been trained, flexibility and adaptability are key, and they are also able to problem-solve.”
For those making the transition to civvy street, it is proving to be a good move too. Rob Lilly is a supply chain manager with Vattenfall and says there are many parallels between his service career and working in offshore wind.
He said: “Dealing with pressure is a key ability, as well as being able to communicate and work in a team with flexible working locations. A sense of humour is key.”
And Ben Skillings, who used to serve with the 1st Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment, has found it a positive career move. He explained: “Every day is a school day in this industry. Nobody truly knows the job until you have done it, and you will learn daily from your colleagues. The real learning comes from getting stuck in. Listen, learn, practice and apply yourself. You will love it.”
There are some perceptions that offshore wind is purely a man’s world, even though the sector is working hard to overturn them. The Offshore Wind Skills Centre is at the forefront of this to ensure that perceived gender barriers are breached. The current intake of its offshore wind students via the Skills Deal had just one female student, although that has doubled to two with the latest intake.
Rachel Bunn said: “Engineering is a sector that is slowly increasing its female employees. The college is working with local schools and sectors to support career aspiration activities that demonstrate engineering and energy is an achievable career.
“One recent example was a project with EDF and ECITB, where 45 female high school pupils undertook a range of practical activities and site visits to understand possible job roles and that there are no barriers to entering the world of engineering.
“We are also working hard with schools, students and employers to raise aspirations and reduce barriers to potential career choices. The college actively uses its female STEM engineers and apprentices in ongoing careers and advice sessions.”
The supply chain also means the breadth of work is very strong. There are job roles available within different areas including asset and project management, consultancy, engineering, maintenance, health and safety, administration and finance.
While there is still work to do, one female student has already been through the course found it very valuable. She said: “It has been all new experiences and full-on. I have enjoyed the physical challenges, especially the sea survival course where we are literally thrown in at the deep end.”
OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY
Low prices and Covid-19 restrictions have created testing conditions for those working in the oil and gas industry. Indeed, Oil and Gas UK recently predicted up to 30,000 jobs could be lost. It is calling for the industry to continue working with regulators and the government to protect jobs, help support its recovery, and transition to a lower carbon future which all helps to preserve the supply chain.
Coupled with this is a rebalancing of skills and working practices to ensure people can re-train to make the most of the opportunities that are out there.
Rachel Bunn said there are options for those who want to either increase their personal skills or re-train. “Our training model supports a fast-track programme for people who have had relevant past employment. This would include taster sessions for water safety and working at height, and site visits. Successful delegates can then go forward for funded places on the core GWO training.”