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The rise of renewables sparks a war for talent for green jobs

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(Bloomberg) – Clean energy giants are finding a shortage of workers with the skills to support their ambitious growth plans.

The renewable energy job market is heating up and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find candidates with the right skills, according to Miguel Stilwell, CEO of Portuguese clean energy firm EDP Renovaveis SA. The company is one of the world’s leading green energy installers and plans to hire 1,300 employees over the next two years.

“There is a global war for talent,” Stilwell said in an interview on May 28. “The renewable sector, given the enormous amount of growth that is expected, does not have enough people.”

As countries funnel billions of dollars into renewable energy development, lawmakers are relying on the sector to create new jobs that are crucial to the post-pandemic economic recovery. Solar generating capacity is expected to triple by the end of the decade, while wind capacity is expected to more than double over the same period, according to clean energy research group Bloomberg NEF.

Green supermajorities such as NextEra Energy Inc, Iberdrola SA, Enel SpA and EDP are leading the race to electrify the global economy. But some big oil companies are also starting to enter the sector, and BP Plc announced last month that it seeks to fill 100 offshore wind jobs in the UK and US, a figure that could double by the end of the year.

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Engineering skills such as energy evaluation, project management and project design are in high demand, said EDP’s Stilwell. Good business developers who understand clean energy technologies are also a scarce resource. Other functions, such as M&A management, or administrative duties, can be easily hired in other industries.

“We have to bring in people from other sectors, be it oil and gas or other parts of the energy industry, or recruit directly from universities,” Stilwell said. “There is a lot of competition out there.”

Engineering and chemistry graduates pursuing a master’s degree in renewable energy at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona are usually hired while they are still in school or just after finishing them, according to Professor Jordi Llorca. The university has partnerships with other universities in Europe and students are often hired to work in other countries such as the UK or Denmark, said Llorca, who is also the director of an engineering research center at the university.

“We need to be quick to adapt the contents of our programs on energy transition and renewable energies to ensure that our graduates are competitive in the market,” said Llorca. “We are constantly looking at the contracts and agreements that we have with different industries to see what is needed.”

The university launched a master’s degree in hydrogen energy last year after professors realized that very few people have the skills in mechanics and chemistry that the fast-growing sector will need very soon. “There is always an empty moment every time a new technology comes out, but we can create new programs in just a few months.”

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Offshore wind farms are another growth area. The projects involve building and maintaining skyscraper-sized wind turbines miles out to sea. A single turn of one of the huge leaves could power a house for two days. The industry was a pioneer in Europe but is now rapidly expanding to Asia and the east coast of the US.

Those new markets don’t have experienced people. That means developers often send British and European employees to lead the way, according to Clint Harrison, director of renewable energy-focused recruiting firm Taylor Hopkinson. But as business takes off, there is pressure to hire locally.

The limits of a well-trained workforce could end up being a bottleneck in an industry that is key to reducing emissions.

“There is a sense of urgency,” Harrison said. “The market is growing very, very quickly and we need to make sure we have the right people in various projects and regions to ensure that projects move forward and are not delayed.”

In the UK alone, around 200,000 skilled workers will be needed in the marine energy sector by 2030, up from 160,000 today, according to a recent report from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. About half of the jobs are expected to be held by people relocating from the oil and gas sector and around 90% of current workers in the fossil fuel sector can retrain for renewables, said author Paul de Leeuw.

“The demand for courses on renewable energy and the energy transition is increasing rapidly and at the same time, we see that the demand for courses on oil is decreasing,” he said. “It is a change in society and industry that is reflected in the educational system.”

© 2021 Bloomberg LP

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