Thomas HopkinsonManaging director, Taylor Hopkinson Associates

UK offshore wind holds promise for engineers with transferrable skills

Through increased investment and tough carbon-emission targets, the green energy sector in the UK continues to prosper. The Bain Report published in 2008 suggests there are 5,000 direct full-time employees in the UK large-scale wind energy industry and wave and tidal industries combined, and that the sector will deliver no less than 70,000 new jobs by 2020, encompassing both senior and mid-level management roles, as well as high-skilled labour.

The demand for talent is vast and is likely to proliferate across all sectors, from consultancy and supply-chain companies, to the energy companies themselves. Research, manufacturing, engineering, operations, maintenance, construction and development are all areas of employment growth, and will continue to develop as the industry secures investment.

As with any industry in its infancy, rapid growth often brings temporary skills shortages. Just as the water, gas and electricity sectors have experienced shortages in recent years, the green energy sector is also lacking skills.

Although government-funded training schemes are helping to provide new talent, employers are increasingly looking to the transferable skills market as a short- to medium-term fix to the problem. The UK’s engineering and maintenance sectors, with automotive, civil and offshore engineering earmarked as a critical resource for the move to ’cross skilling.’

Electrical engineers, maintenance workers, logistics and operations specialists are all in high demand and will be required to oversee upcoming green-energy projects and cutting-edge technologies.

Other transferable roles in demand range from software developers, data analysts and marine scientists for technical analysis work, to mechanical and electrical engineers for project development work.

Dan Finch, SeaEnergy Renewables development director, said: ’A step-change is coming to the offshore wind generation industry and it is coming to the UK first. Generation is moving further offshore and into more challenging conditions in the North Sea. We must recognise that the engineering skills and experience we have built up in the offshore environment are valuable and transferrable, and will be vital to the development of offshore wind generation.’

The UK’s large-scale wind energy sector will deliver no less than 70,000 new jobs by 2020

Although many engineering skills are easily transferable, requiring short conversion or ’bridge’ courses provided by energy companies, some renewable energy companies remain reluctant to take on managers and skilled workers from the engineering sectors.

Rick Eggleston, managing director of REpower, said: ’Many energy and supply-chain companies advertise for, and hold out for, candidates with direct renewables experience rather than tapping into the rich pool of transferable skills from the engineering sectors. With an expansion from 5,000 direct jobs to 50,000 by 2020, employers must take responsibility for bringing people into the industry.’

Another barrier to the transfer of skills is the misconception that the renewable energy sector does not pay well. But this is far from the case. At Taylor Hopkinson, we are seeing only a five per cent reduction in annual salaries compared with the offshore industry, for example, a level that will reduce as the sector grows. Even now, pay scales for skilled engineers can be very lucrative. Experienced wind turbine technicians can earn up to £50,000.

Scott Sutherland is a wind turbine manager at EDF Energy Renewables. ’I came into the industry from an automotive background and found that many of the skills I had were very useful for my current job in the wind sector,’ he said. ’I believe there’s no better time to join the industry. It’s a rapidly growing sector and there are massive opportunities for those with the necessary skills.’

Thomas Hopkinson
Managing director of Taylor Hopkinson Associates
BSc Hons Business Information Systems with French, University of West of England, Bristol
2002 BA Hons English Literature (2:1), University of Wales, Cardiff
2005 Head of utilities at Ellis Fairbank, working with RWE npower, Scottish Power, ITI Energy, SLP Energy, Opus Energy, plus numerous renewable energy start-ups
2008-09 Divisional manager for energy and environment at Eden Scot. Only UK recruiter to provide support to the Round 3 Offshore Wind tender process
2009 Launched Taylor Hopkinson Associates. Achieved £0-c£350,000 turnover in first financial year