Wind power has seen dramatic growth in recent years and remains a highly topical and highly politicised sector. It plays an important role in Europe's economy, contributing to its gross domestic product (GDP) and job creation. Ernst & Young, for example, estimates that for every €1 million invested in wind, twenty-one jobs are created.
However, the technical challenges associated with transmitting energy from an offshore source back into grid have proven both costly and time consuming. These project delays have sparked vigorous political debate. In turn policy uncertainty has led to an unpredictable market, which has affected recruitment. Nevertheless, opportunities remain especially prevalent within the financially stable utility providers for high-calibre professionals with a keen interest in the wind power industry.
Similarly, the established wind farm developers with a strong installed capacity continue to recruit due to historical financial success. At the mid-tier level, especially those offshore-specific, times can be challenging. However, those usually in joint venture with an established utility company are also highly active.
Alongside the drive for highly-skilled engineering and technical staff, the maturation of the industry also provides opportunity for ‘corporate functions’ such as procurement as well as project management, while the complexities of offshore construction have driven the need for experienced ‘contract’ specialists often coming from the historical heavy industries.
In summary, though experiencing real pressures, these companies can provide a conduit for professionals working outside of the wind industry but wanting to make the transition to a sector that offers the opportunity to be involved with technologies shaping the future.
Growing Job Demands
Available figures suggest that close to 400,000 people in Europe work in renewable energy and employment in the wind sector alone more than doubled between 2000 and 2007. Growth is expected to double again by 2020 to 330,000 people.
Whether it is installing foundations, commissioning turbines, or ongoing maintenance, there is a growing supply chain of businesses feeding this industry. Opportunities in the supply chain are open for those ’non-wind’ professionals; equally, within those who are ‘wind-specific’, the market is crying out for experienced practitioners — particularly both from an engineering standpoint as well as project geared.
There’s also plenty of work in the contractor space for those with specialist experience. Here, project management and specialist design skills come into their own, not only in the more advanced markets of Europe, but in rapidly developing regions like Eastern Europe and Latin America.
The wind power industry remains relatively young, so the candidate pool is of a different size and maturity to other sectors. Finding candidates with an exact skills match is always a challenge and the level of transferable skills varies according to function. Despite this, many companies still demand direct experience of the sector.
Technical project managers and developers, for example, will often need experience in the wind industry in terms of having knowledge of the relevant legislation, conducting site assessments and impact studies. But where the key requirement is in managing budgets, cost or teams, then making the transition to wind is possible.
Electrical and mechanical engineers can be industry mobile, and are sought after in the wind sector. These professionals enjoy solving technological problems and will be attracted by the opportunity to work in a sector as topical as wind power. Similarly, procurement and supply chain professionals with a solid understanding of managing the flow of goods and cost-saving strategies and who have worked in similar fields will find a lot more opportunity for cross pollination.
As more offshore wind comes online there will be greater crossover between the oil and gas, marine and aerospace sectors. The offshore wind jobs market is diverse, with demand for skills in everything from deepwater port management and marine risk management to helicopter and vessel manufacturing.
Making the Transition
After years of pro-wind policies and sound investment, the industry is on what looks like a self-sustaining trajectory and it would be foolish to assume that the ‘green’ jobs market has stalled simply because policy makers and headline writers are focused elsewhere.
The technology is relatively mature compared to other sub-sectors within the renewable energy space and, when nations return to growth, many commentators believe the wind power market will be bigger, stronger and more globalised than ever before. The opportunities for highly-skilled professionals to move between related industries will also grow.
In addition, as with any market, the balance between lifestyle, career opportunities and net remuneration has to be right.
With many of the major players looking to secure the best talent in European hotspots such as London, Hamburg and Copenhagen (where we are seeing an influx of new entrants or new regional offices being opened), they are now making it easy both for graduate engineers and family men or women to relocate and settle.
There are perhaps greater opportunities for wind power beginners with the newer or mid-tier entrants in the field. Pay can be upper quartile and these players are potentially less concerned about direct experience.
With the global wind industry expected to install more than 46 GW (gigawatts) of new capacity this year, the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) predicts annual growth rates of about 8 percent for the next five years. Those with either commercial or engineering backgrounds and looking to be a part of what could provide a source of renewed economic growth in Europe are encouraged to look closely at wind power. And with the right employer, it may prove to be the perfect career path.
Lead image: Wind farm worker via Shutterstock