Role models, mentoring and retraining are key to closing the offshore renewables skills gap says IMarEST

Source: press release, 2 February 2022

illustration: IMarEST
illustration: IMarEST

With an anticipated explosion in the growth of offshore renewables by 2030, the Institute for Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST) says now is the time to inspire young people into offshore renewable engineering and close the skills gap. The sector is predicted to see a six-fold increase in power production to 180 GW by 2030 with jobs set to expand from 26,000 to 69,800 by 2026. However, as automated cloud processing, machine learning and AI are introduced to optimise offshore wind operations, the challenge is to not only inspire new recruits but also upskill existing professionals.

“The skills gap is high on our agenda,” says Mark Calverley, co-chair of the IMarEST’s Offshore Renewables special interest group (ORSIG), which has a dedicated skills working group. “It’s simply not feasible to support all of this growth with the number of people in the industry right now. We need to encourage more graduates and apprentices into the sector as well as upskilling existing employees and supporting professionals who may want to transfer into this growth sector.”

The group is calling on employers to support outreach programmes for schools and universities and provide real-life insight into the sector through role models.

Calverley adds, “It’s important that we make the industry visible to young people, their teachers and parents. Unless you know someone who works in this field, it’s unlikely you’ll hear about it as a career option, so we need role models to visit schools and universities and inspire the next generation. We also need mentoring schemes to support young people coming into the industry, and, as the mentoring process works both ways, we can upskill the existing workforce with the new skills and knowledge coming out of colleges and universities. This is important because we don’t just have a skills issue, we have a retraining issue.”

The ORSIG is also keen to highlight the opportunity the industry has of creating greater diversity and a positive work culture that supports inclusivity where people are recognised for their talents and abilities.

Alice Goward Brown, co-chair of the ORSIG explains, “As an industry we need to grow quickly but not at the detriment to employee wellbeing and work culture, and this needs to be managed carefully. A good place to start is with the best practice guidelines developed by the Offshore Wind Industry Council and the Global Wind Energy Council, and those companies already doing good things to promote a positive and diverse working culture should be shouting about it from the rooftops.”

As the sector starts to focus on floating wind turbines, as evidenced by the latest ScotWind awards, this technology opens up new markets and opportunities: to capture winds in deep water regions offshore Southeast Asia, northern Europe and the US. To this end, the ORSIG highlights the opportunity to learn from the existing expertise in the offshore oil and gas sector.

Calverley explains the benefits, “There is a real opportunity to tap into this pool of talent in order to deliver on the explosive growth targets for offshore wind. Oil and gas sector professionals are the real experts when it comes to floating structures, there’s a lot we can learn from them. We can also learn from their safety culture, and we need to consider harmonising standards and certification to improve efficiencies and optimise supply chain capacity. Currently, there’s one certification for the offshore oil and gas industry and a completely different one for roles in offshore wind; this creates issues for service companies working across both industries.”

Skills, technology and innovation, sustainability and the circular economy are among the issues to be discussed at the upcoming Fugro-sponsored IMarEST Oceans of Sustainable Energy Conference 2022 organised by ORSIG. The conference will examine the challenges and opportunities of scaling up offshore wind with contributions from multidisciplinary specialists from across energy and supply chain operators, the ocean science community, policymakers, regulators and students. Abstract submissions are now open, and the deadline is 14 March 2022.