New offshore training programme to ensure the right skill sets for offshore wind adventure
Offshore wind capacity in Europe is to increase 25-fold in the coming years. ‘Offshore Academy’ is the working title of a new training programme designed to ensure that the required skills are available in Denmark when the installation of wind power really begins to accelerate. “It is an excellent idea. This is exactly the kind of initiative it takes to speed up the process,” says Giles Dickson, CEO of Wind Europe.
The seas around Europe currently have offshore wind turbines that can supply 12 GW. But not for long. In November, the European Commission launched its strategy on offshore wind, which aims to seriously boost the capacity. In only a decade, the target is a five-fold increase, and in 30 years from now, offshore wind capacity is to be 25 times greater than today.
This means offshore wind installation must be scaled up significantly.
“It’s a very ambitious announcement, but it’s absolutely realistic,” says Giles Dickson, CEO of Wind Europe, a non-governmental organisation.
Although highly optimistic, he recognises that huge investments are required to accomplish the green transition at such an explosive pace. Everything from installation vessels to laying cables will challenge the industry and, what is more, there will be a battle for space as the wind farms will cover large areas. Fisheries, the Royal Danish Navy and transport corridors also require large marine areas.
However, qualified labour will also be required to accomplish all this.
“Besides space, one of the greatest challenges will be to find enough qualified people. Today, we have 77,000 people directly employed in offshore wind. By 2030, we’ll need 200,000 at the European level,” says Dickson.
Lars Aagaard, CEO of Danish Energy, a non-commercial lobby organisation, also points to labour as an essential factor in the coming green transition.
“Up until now, labour has not been a major issue. That may be because the markets have doubted whether the politicians would make such drastic decisions. However, recent announcements have eliminated such doubts,” says Aagaard.
”Besides space, one of the greatest challenges will be to find enough qualified people. Today, we have 77,000 people directly employed in offshore wind. By 2030, we’ll need 200,000 at the European level, says Giles Dickson, CEO, Wind Europe.
Green transition calls for workers with practical skills
The jobs will benefit both unskilled and skilled workers and, in Denmark, they will be distributed evenly across the country. Especially smiths, electricians, plumbers and unskilled workers with the right competencies will be in high demand. They will be handling specific jobs, including the installation of wind turbines.
A report issued earlier this autumn by Danish Energy showed that investments in the green transition will generate 290,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs in Denmark by 2030. Offshore wind installations alone will require 120,000 FTEs in Denmark. Avoiding bottleneck problems is therefore a prerequisite for reaching the target.
“Green transition is, to a wide extent, a hands-on process. The manufacture and installation of wind turbines is labour-intensive,” as Dennis Jul Pedersen, CEO of Port Esbjerg, puts it.
Aagaard emphasises that this will be a scaling exercise of an unprecedented scope. Not least because, concurrently with the erection of offshore wind turbines, other green transition projects include installation of charging stations, replacement of oil furnaces, establishment of district heating systems and energy-optimisation of buildings across Denmark.
“The easiest part will be to obtain the financing to ramp up offshore wind capacity. But in order to build, we need personnel. Electricians, for instance, are already much sought after and, according to our analysis, the work will require another 32,000 FTEs in the period up to 2030. We therefore need to make sure that the required skills are available, and in sufficient numbers,” says Aagaard.”Up until now, labour has not been a major issue. That may be because the markets have doubted whether the politicians would make such drastic decisions. However, recent announcements have eliminated such doubts,” says Lars Aagaard, CEO of Danish Energy.
Training programme in the making
In Esbjerg, efforts are focused on taking part in creating the best possible settings for the anticipated explosive development. The port already ranks #1 in the world in terms of the amount of wind power shipped, but in order to keep the lead, the pool of skills needs to be expanded in the busy years ahead.
The ambition is to create a brand new official training programme, currently with the working title ‘Offshore Academy’. The initial meeting between employers and trade unions was scheduled for December, but was postponed due to COVID-19. Nonetheless, the expectation of the general secretary of the Danish trade union 3F in Esbjerg is clear.
“I expect that, within a year or two, we’ll have an official training programme in place that can help provide the right skills to the people to take part in delivering the green transition in offshore wind,” says Jakob Lykke, who participated in the preparatory work.
He emphasises that politicians, employers and workers are all conscious of the need to speed up the transition. And of the need to develop the training programme in close cooperation between trade unions and enterprises.
“It’s an excellent idea. This is exactly the kind of initiative it takes to speed up the process,” says Dickson.”We have shipped more wind power than any other port and we are well into the transition. Also, we have a plan for obtaining qualified labour when the need arises. This gives us a competitive edge, which is otherwise difficult to gain, so the fact that we’re already underway may prove decisive,” says Dennis Jul Pedersen, CEO, Port Esbjerg.
Oil to be phased out
According to Giles Dickson of Wind Europe, efforts are being made to establish training programmes in several European countries in addition to Denmark. A number of projects are underway in the UK, and Poland has set up a training centre to reskill coal miners into working in offshore wind.
A large political majority agreed in November to set an end date to oil and gas exploration and extraction in the Danish sector of the North Sea so that it will be phased out by 2050. This means that large numbers of employees in the oil industry will be out of work over the next years. This further underlines the need for, and relevance of, creating the Offshore Academy.
“Oil-gas and wind have a lot in common. We intend to create a programme that also oil workers will be able to take while on shore. When the oil industry scales down, they can switch to the wind industry,” says 3F general secretary Jakob Lykke.
“This is a good idea because we want to ensure that as many Danes as possible have the required skills to get a job in our industry. That’s important to all of Denmark,” says Aagaard of Danish Energy.
Dickson points out that similar initiatives should be supported all over Europe.
“We have to be able to replicate on a massive scale across Europe, and governments have understood this. Therefore, work is being carried out around Europe to establish the right competency framework,” says Dickson, adding that all the major turbine manufacturers and developers of offshore wind farms have their own training programmes, which are also being expanded.
Optimistic on Esbjerg’s behalf
In Aagaard’s opinion, Denmark has an advantage over other European countries as the government’s target of a 70 per cent reduction of carbon emissions by 2030 kickstarted the process sooner than elsewhere in Europe. The industry has set about optimising processes, minimising labour requirements and introducing new technology.
“Bottleneck problems can be either very expensive or restrictive. Hopefully, we will not be facing any of that in Denmark. We should turn it into an advantage and take the lead in respect of supplementary training and similar projects. Attracting labour from other countries in Europe is also a tool we can’t ignore, but we need to strike the right balance,” says Aagaard.
Dickson is also optimistic about Esbjerg’s ability to escalate the capacity. Not least since half of all offshore wind power in 2019 was shipped from Esbjerg.
“In order to deliver on the ambitious offshore wind objective, many European ports will have to expand their capacity. But as things stand today, Esbjerg is the leading offshore port in Europe. And we expect it can retain that position, not least because of the potential for expanding the port and the fact that there is EUR 130 million available for investing to expand facilities,” says Dickson, referring to the agreement announced in May by investment fund Infranode when it teamed up with Port Esbjerg to invest one billion Danish kroner in the development of facilities for the wind turbine industry at the port.
Used to adapting
Transition is not a new concept to the people at the port of Esbjerg. Unionist Jakob Lykke has tried it before. When he was a boy, he helped unloading catches from the fishing boats at the harbour. Later on, he was trained within the oil industry when the fish disappeared and oil started booming.
“Once again, I’m part of adapting the port. This time to wind power. The people at Esbjerg are used to adapting and we are good at it, but it won't be easy. Many other countries will be breathing down our necks,” he says.
Port Esbjerg CEO Dennis Jul Pedersen agrees, but believes Esbjerg has an advantage.
“We have shipped more wind power than any other port and we are well into the transition. Also, we have a plan for obtaining qualified labour when the need arises. This gives us a competitive edge, which is otherwise difficult to gain, so the fact that we’re already underway may prove decisive,” he says.