Skills shortages threaten green power’s growth


April 3, 2017

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The renewables sector is growing worldwide, but a new report has warned skills shortages could threaten the pace of its expansion.

Job search providers Airswift and Energy Jobline last week published their first Global Energy Talent Index, which analyses
the state of employment in different parts of the energy industry. This study relied on survey responses from 15,810 employees, employers and hiring managers across the renewables, oil and gas, nuclear and petrochemical sectors in 156 countries.

The survey has reported that more than 8.1million people work in renewable energy worldwide. While salaries for those working in renewables are lower than in other energy sectors, most of those interviewed expected them to increase in the next 12 months.

The publication also said that employees who work in the sector are attracted by its progressive and eco-friendly culture, and are unlikely to change to another sector, such as oil and gas.

However, renewables is hitting a crunch point. Seventy-nine percent of respondents think there is a skills shortage in the sector, which the majority believe to be caused mainly by lack of planning for knowledge transfer and skills retention; and also by a lack of professionals entering the industry.

These issues are, in fact, two faces of the same coin.

Compared to the other sectors analysed, the fast expansion of renewables including wind is relatively recent. This means that the sector’s workforce is on average younger than in other sectors like oil and gas. Bringing in experienced professionals from those other industries would be a challenge because of the salary difference.

So what can be done? Well, supporting people in wind to develop their skills will make this a more appealing place for professionals to ply their trade. Clean energy’s appeal isn’t all about money.

But the survey says this is not happening effectively enough. It draws a picture of an industry where the jobs market has not kept up with the advancement of technology and the industry itself.

In a growing sector, the presence of qualified workers is essential to ensure sustained growth, but this report questions whether wind is bringing in new skilled workers at a fast enough rate. Advances in turbine technology mean that machines now are more efficient and complex, and that requires specific expertise to design, install and maintain them. Wind needs the skilled workers ‘on the ground’ that can provide these highly complex services.

So there are challenges with hiring at all levels. This raises some concerns, but hiring managers should see it as an opportunity.

The presence of relatively young workforce means that there is still room to make things right. Companies should look to invest more in training new personnel, and executives and managers must have strategies in place to deal with labour deficiencies, both now and in the future. This would also help the sector shaping its own senior workforce, assessing the problem of the lack of professionals.

This would be a long-term solution, though. What can the sector can do in the short-term?

On this point, the survey highlights an interesting factor: 77% of hiring managers believe that recruiting from other energy disciplines would be beneficial to the renewable sector because it will bring in a “new way of thinking” and “added skill set”.

If wind companies want to do this then they could simply offer higher salaries, but that will not always be possible. But just as important is offering people a clear career progression, which is far more achievable: wind is an exciting and growing sector, in which there will be plenty of opportunities in the coming decade. We have seen in the news today that wind and other renewables are reaching a tipping point.

Having the confidence to make this argument could go some way to attracting people to fill any skills gaps.

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