Earlier in 2019, the UK’s Offshore Wind Sector Deal set ambitious targets to more than treble highly skilled jobs from 7,200 today to 27,000 by 2030. Whose job is it to find the workers we will need?
By Vicki Ashton, Strategic Resourcing and Talent Manager for JDR Cable Systems, part of TFKable Group, UK
Developing a highly skilled workforce is a long-term investment. That is partly why the UK government has set out such an ambitious target for offshore wind jobs over a decade in advance. Collectively it will take our industry the best part of that decade to achieve this.
Training 20,000 people will require a considerable effort by educators and industry together to attract and develop a highly skilled and capable talent pipeline. At the same time, the industry has a fantastic opportunity to broaden the demographics of the sector.
Raising the Flag for Apprenticeships
A critical enabler to a sustainable talent pipeline is attracting bright and enthusiastic apprentices, which makes good relationships with local schools, sixth form colleges and universities essential.
Every initiative needs to inform, inspire and educate. One of the best ways to learn what works is to knowledge share with your peer group. Among the most memorable experiences for a student is to take them through the entire project life cycle from design, through to construction, commissioning, operation and decommissioning. An initiative like that requires the involvement of the end-to-end supply chain. Networks regionally and nationally are also important, whether it is a local working group or an initiative like the national STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Ambassador scheme.
Plotting a Course for Success
At JDR, we are focused on creating authentic practical experiences that encourage student learning by doing. We have invited hundreds of students here to take part in activities, like interactive fact-finding missions and maths challenges to solve design engineering problems.
More recently, we have involved our supply chain partners with demonstrations of virtual reality training, so students can see what it is like to visit an offshore wind farm. The feedback from schools has been overwhelmingly positive. Maintaining the momentum helps us to do more, reach more children and work with more partners. Our participation in working groups means that different suppliers can complement each other’s activities to further enhance the experience of students.
Ready the Crew
Almost all successful initiatives are due to the people behind them. Attracting a new workforce relies on your existing workforce, so internal and external promotion of STEM initiatives is vital to spread enthusiasm and good will. Without the support of colleagues, a lot of what we need to do simply is not possible. At JDR, I am lucky that my colleagues regularly go above and beyond their everyday roles, volunteering their expertise to engage with students and to attract potential apprentices, graduates and workers from other industries.
STEM Ambassadors, typically ex-graduates and apprentices, are indispensable in providing a personal view of careers in our industry. Students can ask them questions a career adviser would simply not have the experience to answer.
Keeping One’s Bearings
In the early stages of an outreach programme, the target seems distant. You invest in making a memorable experience of an afternoon, day or week, with little prospect of ever seeing those students again. That makes it all the more worthwhile when you hear a story of that early engagement paying off. I recently met a student who attended our 2016 STEM event. They were inspired to study for a Level 2 engineering qualification at college and then applied for an apprenticeship in offshore wind. I was stunned that a student was still living the impact of that day – there is no greater recognition than that.
Another one of our great success stories is an engineering apprentice who joined us aged 18; we are now sponsoring them through university to achieve their BEng in Mechanical Engineering and Institution of Mechanical Engineers chartered status. He has graduated through several roles: Engineering Technician, Design Technician, Senior Design Engineer, Lead Engineer as well as gaining his Level 3 through to Higher National Diploma in Mechanical Engineering.
The Horizon and Beyond
2019 has been a turning point for us and is reflective of the direction of our industry; this year we have taken on 12 apprentices, including 5 graduates, our biggest ever intake. With a clear target we recognise that now is the time to be investing in our talent pipeline. It is imperative that as an industry we encourage apprenticeship roles to help smooth gaps at the mid-senior level later.
While apprenticeships are about technical skills and industry standards, they are also about making connections with people. Whether that is through STEM events, work experience placements, apprenticeships, graduate roles or professional career development, everyone at every organisational level has a part to play in developing the highly skilled, diverse workforce we need for 2030.