Offshore wind sector deal shines spotlight on skills

Chris Claydon, chief executive of the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board.

A predicted trebling in demand for skilled offshore jobs by 2030 will place big pressures on an already tight UK labour market, says Chris Claydon.

The recent publication of the offshore wind sector deal represents a significant investment in UK infrastructure that will create tens of thousands of skilled jobs. This is welcome news for the engineering construction industry as well as the UK energy market and for coastal economies. 

Nevertheless, the forecast trebling in demand for skilled offshore jobs by 2030 will place additional pressures on an already tight UK labour market. We are already seeing competition for engineers for major infrastructure projects, for example Hinkley Point C, to name but one, and this is only set to increase. Any restrictions on access to skilled EU labour after Brexit will amplify the challenge further.

As the statutory skills body for the engineering construction industry, the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) has a crucial role to play in equipping the offshore wind sector with the skilled workforce it needs. Over a quarter of engineering construction industry companies currently operate in the renewable energy sector and this number is growing with major oil and gas companies, including the likes of Shell, moving into the UK offshore wind market. 

It is important that the government is responsive to these trends and the ECITB is working to ensure the skills system meets the needs of the sector. We have developed new training standards requested by industry, such as the wind turbine blade repair training gaps and are supporting new entrants to embark on careers in the sector. For example, in the north, we are members of the Humber Energy Skills Campus, working with partners who support Orsted, Siemens and Engie to offer the necessary offshore courses.

In a tight labour market, being able to transfer skilled workers from other sectors is critical. For offshore wind, this includes redeploying offshore oil and gas workers to the sector, many of whom possess similar skills. This ties in with ECITB’s Connected Competence programme, which is standardising training and testing in the offshore oil and gas sector, to make qualifications fully transferrable between employers and ultimately sectors. We will be exploring how the programme might align with the proposed offshore energy passport in the coming months.

There’s no doubt that offshore wind is seen as an attractive career destination for millennials. The government’s aim to double the number of women entering the industry from 16% to at least 33% by 2030 is both creditable and achievable. We too are committed to boosting diversity across engineering construction by working with industry to attract more women and BAME groups and creating inclusive workplaces. 

While this presents an exciting opportunity to bring new talent into an expanding sector, we also need to make sure new entrants to the offshore wind industry have transferable skills. By equipping them with the right training that allows movement between projects and sectors, we can retain valuable engineering skills within UK industry once peak demand passes. 

Chris Claydon is the chief executive of the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board.