Tackling the skills gap


August 26, 2011

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A small, but significant, announcement seemed to largely escape the attentions of the wind industry this week.

Wind farm developer Carbon Free announced that, subject to local approval, it would launch a renewable energy apprenticeship programme backed by the profits from its wind farm development. The wind project is located in Fife and consists of 9 turbines and is committed to providing £2million over 25 years, which, Carbon Free hope, should provide scope for up to 150 apprenticeships at the local Adam Smith College.

Whilst some may, unfairly, diminish the figures backing the scheme, or bracket it as merely good public relations, the positive news is that certain players in the industry are starting to take the issue of the skills gap that besets the UK supply chain rather seriously.

Indeed, as one of the major hurdles to the use of UK firms in the wind energy industry, the lack of skills is highlighted as one of the significant risks as to whether investors will put up the cash for projects that will become heinously expensive to maintain as skilled operators have to be imported.

It’s something that many industry observers have often pushed to the fore, asking why Government, which is keen to ensure that UK industry supports a UK sector, hasn’t yet got to grips with addressing the issue. The UK, after all, has an excellent heritage in marine engineering, both in offshore structures and composite materials. It’s exactly this type of heritage that should be being capitalised on for offshore wind, for example.

But of course, it undoubtedly comes down to cost. And in what is likely to have to become a wider trend in the renewables industry, Government will have to provide the commitments through policy and future contracts, whilst private industry will have to cover the short term costs.

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