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February 17, 2014

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The rush to renewable energy is creating a widening skills gap

Nick Chivers, Director of QHSE Services, TÜV SÜD PMSS

As the UK and European press voice various opinions and analysis on the EU’s energy and climate policy for 2030, those working within the renewables industry consider the realities of building out these new targets.

Renewable energy is tasked with providing 27% of EU energy production by 2030, the result of which according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) will mean the sector will employ 16.7 million people worldwide (an increase of 5.7 million from today).

However, one subject that remains almost entirely devoid of press coverage is the impact this rapid increase in demand for renewable energy will have on the availability of a skilled and experienced resource pool; the number of competent people required to deliver these targets is vast.

In recent years, there have been a number of studies and papers released that emphasise the emerging skills gap in the renewable energy industry and the apparent reasons behind them. Many of these reports cite uncertainty in Government policy (despite EU-wide targets for emissions and renewable energy), which can result in reduced investor confidence and market attractiveness, and leading to instability in project pipelines and as such the supply chain. All of which contributes to at times a wildly fluctuating demand for skilled personnel that are available and suitable to develop, build and operate renewable energy installations.

To put this in perspective, the basic timeline of an offshore wind farm for example, varies significantly from project to project, but a full life-cycle (conception to decommissioning) can be anywhere between a “typically” stated 25 years up to around 40 years. The difference usually due to time required to achieve consent and pass through challenging development and final investment decision gateways.

During the various phases, the expertise, experience, man power and equipment required to successfully navigate this life-cycle is something that needs careful project management and considerable forethought about resource planning.

To date, much of the UK renewable energy industry has largely relied on a constantly variable and dynamic labour market, sourced primarily from SME’s, rather than the large developers and operators such as the Big Six electricity utilities. This puts a huge strain on employee retention and competing with short-term inflated rewards packages offered by larger organisations.

Project teams can struggle during the parallel development of multiple projects, where personnel are pulled between differing projects leading to others “picking up the ball”. As such competence is questionable and single point failures, as well as “burn-out” of key people are not uncommon.

There is a well documented need for an increased volume of job roles based on the core STEM subject areas, but recent studies show that Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths graduates are dwindling in number. Current industry training in areas is ad-hoc, relatively unstructured and lacks continuity and standardisation. Efforts are being made by trade bodies to bring a parity of standards across the European renewables market, with a view to levelling the standards for training, raising competence and building experience.

Resource needs are difficult to predict outside of the larger development organisations, resulting in a very active recruitment agency “body-shop” approach, where CV’s are traded for inflated daily rates when a project suddenly comes on-stream and demand outstrips supply. This leaves the established smaller companies with a lack of confidence to invest significantly in long-term training programmes.

The situation ultimately means one project can be executed with a well-prepared team of highly experienced professionals, while another comparable project is executed with a skeleton crew of one-man-bands and interim roles, where personnel turnover is high and continuity, standards and competence are questionable. As a result, safety performance can be equally inconsistent.

As a “self regulated” industry, wind energy for example, is pro-active regarding lessons learnt, knowledge share and embracing transferable skills. Attributes which must be built upon to ensure the safe delivery of renewable energy installations going forward. There are also increasing numbers of apprenticeship schemes within the larger supply chain companies, that offer both classroom and ‘on the job’ training, together with recent emerging regional “hubs” for industry specific training.

Job opportunities will continue to be plentiful and varied, most notably in technical, administrative and management roles. However, stability of energy policy from governments is vital to ensuring the operational efficiencies and achieving the investor confidence, necessary for a stable industry. Establishing structured education and training policies and programmes will ensure industry can safely execute projects, build experience and provide careers as part of the low carbon future.

Renewable energy is not seen as a high-risk industry and is regarded as having a good safety record. This must be protected as fiercely as the climate, environment and energy diversity and security for which it is deployed.


Nick Chivers is Global Director of QHSE Services for consulting firm TÜV SÜD PMSS, and leads a long established team of renewables industry specialists.

LinkedIN: Twitter: @NickChivers /

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Murray Todd
Murray Todd
10 years ago

A very good article which makes the point of supply and demand for the right trained personnel were the day rate is getting higher and higher, mainly due to there not being enough competent people in the market. I have found that this is problem isn’t helped by the renewables industry themselves, I have 22 years of experience at sea (hold all the MCA Certs required to work on ships) and 6 years working on building sites as a SHE advisor / Manager however when I applied for several Safety positions with off shore wind farm installation projects I have… Read more »