wind turbine workers

Wet and windy

We give you an update on career options within the renewable energy sectors of marine and wind. Find out what kinds of jobs are available, where the work is, and how to break into these industries.

What is the jobs outlook?

At the moment, onshore wind has the lion’s share of direct full-time jobs in the wind and marine energy sector, employing 56 per cent of its workforce (direct employment refers to jobs in designing, building, maintaining, planning and delivery of projects).

Based on research commissioned by RenewableUK, onshore wind accounts for around 6,015 full-time employees, while 3,151 are employed in offshore wind, 823 in marine and 590 in the small-scale wind systems industry. The total number of people employed in wind and marine energy in 2010 came to 10,600 which may seem like small fry compared to some industries but these are extremely young sectors and those interested in a career in green energy should take a longer term view since considerable growth is expected.

RenewableUK predicts that by 2021, the number of offshore jobs will overtake those onshore when many of the planned offshore developments will be operational. The total number employed in offshore alone will rise to 29,700, accounting for 53 per cent of the wind and marine industry’s workforce. The other 47 per cent will be made up of 10,300 full-time employees in onshore wind (19 per cent), 7,800 in marine energy (14 per cent) and 7,800 in small-scale wind systems (14 per cent).

What kind of jobs and areas of work are available?

Jobs are defined in the RenewableUK report, Working for a Green Britain published last July, as recruitment areas or the part these jobs play in the development process rather than specific roles. The good news for young engineers though is that many of the positions referred to involve engineering and technical expertise.

“Research and development, manufacture, project design, construction, operations and maintenance all require aspects of mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as civil engineering and technical expertise in a range of areas such as grid connection,” explains Sophie Bennett, skills and employment policy officer at RenewableUK. “Wind turbine engineers, for example, are recruited largely for the operations and maintenance stage.”

It should be pointed out though that there are currently less entry-level jobs directly available for less experienced people. “If you look at our site, average salaries are around £30-40k so at the moment the higher demand is for experienced professionals transferring existing skills across to renewables from other sectors,” says Richard Marshall, owner of the jobsite Green Jobs Online. “However the renewables sector as a whole needs many more young people coming into it in the coming years."

RenewableUK launched the Renewables Training Network last year, a subsidiary that focuses on providing transition training for those with relevant experience and expertise from aligned industries, but Bennett adds: “The huge employment growth expected in the wind and marine energy industries highlights the need for new entrants to the industry.”

Where are the jobs geographically?

There are a number of hotpots in the UK that will see the highest development over the coming years when it comes to renewable energy.

Bennett reports that in terms of onshore wind energy, the key areas are likely to be Scotland, Wales, and the North East and North West of England. While the major growth areas for offshore wind around the UK will be off East Anglia, due north off the Lincolnshire and Humberside coasts, Hastings, west of the Isle of Wight, the coastline around the Bristol Channel and in the Irish Sea between North Wales and the Isle of Man. In Scotland, the main development area is in the Firth of Forth.

The areas likely to be most affected by offshore wind developments in terms of employment will be Hull, Humberside and East Yorkshire as these areas are close to the largest Round 3 development zones (a Round 3 development zone is one which has been identified as being able to significantly contribute to meeting the UK’s renewable energy target. Construction of Round 3 sites is expected to start in the middle of the decade).  

Bennett advises accessing the UK Wind Energy Database for statistical information, tables, and maps on onshore and offshore energy projects, as well as information on developers.

The marine industries are still relatively developmental but Scotland currently boasts 25 per cent and 10 per cent respectively of Europe’s tidal and wave resource, according to Scottish Renewables’ Marine Milestones report. Orkney is home to the European Marine Energy Centre and, earlier this year, Scotland launched its first Marine Energy Park in the Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters. Other test sites lie off the coast of North Cornwall and Northumberland.

What is the best route into these industries?

For entry-level positions, the most likely route in is via an apprenticeship or graduate programme so you can gain practical experience while learning the job.This means you may also have an opportunity to earn industry-recognised qualifications.

Many engineering and technical degrees and apprenticeships will be relevant but more tailored qualifications are also emerging. RenewableUK led the creation of a wind turbine operations and maintenance advanced level apprenticeship in collaboration with the National Skills Academy for Power and Energy & Utility Skills and the course is delivered by six training centres around the UK and the qualification is awarded by City & Guilds.

Carnegie College in Fife, Scotland, is among those that runs the turbine course and it also has a portfolio of HND and other courses focused on the renewable sector.

You can find out about companies offering apprenticeships at the Think Power website.

There are also an increasing number of universities offering BSc/Msc as well as MEng degrees in renewable/green energy related areas. In addition, there are specialist training companies.

Richard Marshall cites Ploughcroft Training Centre, which has become one of the most well known renewable energy training centres in the world, and Green Power Conferences, which also hosts Green Energy networking events and has a division called Green Power Academy, offering courses in all aspects of renewable energy.

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