The delivery of 5GW of offshore wind before 2030, as stated in the Programme for Government, will create a significant number of native industry jobs, which will first require serious education and upskilling efforts.
The large-scale development of offshore wind that is due to take place in Ireland is expected to create over 20,000 employment opportunities during the lifecycle of these projects (until 2055), with at least 675 permanent, high skill jobs over the 25-year operational phase.
A report by the Carbon Trust published in 2020 states that there is the potential for 2,532 direct jobs to be created in Ireland during the development and construction of offshore wind projects and a further 1,312 jobs to be created during the projects’ decommissioning stage. Given that these numbers were formulated before the Programme for Government raised Ireland’s 2030 offshore goals from 3.5GW to 5GW, the numbers will only rise.
The same report estimates the workforce required to deliver 3.5GW to be 15,731,289 person-days and 21,380 full-time equivalent jobs. Scaling up to 5GW, assuming an identical scale of person-days and full-time equivalence to GW, these figures would reach 22,473,270 and 30,453, respectively, with the largest amounts of work coming in the manufacturing, installation and connection and operation and maintenance stages.
Such large-scale developments and employment numbers demand a skilled workforce in an area which has had no significant presence within the Irish economy and job landscape until very recently. Such a lack of relevant skills in the domestic workforce means that programmes such as the Kerry Training Board Wind Turbine Maintenance Technician Traineeship will be especially important in this decade. The traineeship is a 38-week course provided by the Kerry Training Board in wind turbine training, with the first allocation of trainees in 2019.
During the construction phase of an offshore windfarm, there is a significant role for turbine suppliers. Then, during the operations phase, an average offshore windfarm requires around 80 staff, with additional needed staff needed during maintenance phases. This 80-strong staff primarily consists of turbine technicians, engineers, boat crew, stores staff, management and operations staff.
Shortages in the workforce have been identified in a wide range of areas affecting the operation of offshore projects, including engineering, financial services and logistics. With offshore development and subsequent operations broadly broken down into six supply chain areas (development and consent, procurement and manufacturing, installation and commissioning, operations and maintenance, and decommissioning), a wide range of skills will be needed for full implementation of offshore wind power.
Across 20 occupation groupings relevant to offshore split across larger categories such as science and engineering, business and financial and transport and logistics, SOLAS identifies shortages in 11, with the potential for shortages identified in a further two. The shortages identified in engineering will be especially worrying given its prevalence in offshore operation, but recent significant upticks in apprenticeship numbers are a cause for hope in that area.
Industrial electrical engineering and manufacturing engineering (both level 6 and 7) have all seen new apprenticeship schemes founded since 2017, while mechanical automation and maintenance fitting, metal fabrication, sheet metalworking and toolmaking all saw increases in apprentice population of at least 64 per cent between 2012 and 2017. Attention will now turn to the hopes for a government skills strategy focussed on the area as Ireland looks to fully harness all the potential benefits of a domestic offshore wind industry.