Wind blows in skills needs

Colleges gear up to meet huge jobs potential from offshore wind. Jean McLeish reports

It took just a week of work experience in fourth year and Scott MacLeod was hooked - engineering was definitely for him.

The former Culloden Academy pupil is now training to be a wind turbine technician on a modern apprenticeship at Carnegie College in Fife - the first course of its kind established in Britain.

Nineteen-year old Scott began his four-year apprenticeship in August 2010 and is studying at the college's new Whitlock Energy Collaboration Centre on the campus at Rosyth. When he finishes at Christmas, he'll continue on- the-job training with his employer REpower, one of the country's leading wind turbine manufacturers.

"We do mechanical, practical and theory, electrical practical theory, then hydraulics, pneumatics, wind turbine theory and basic skills like communications and maths," says Scott, who left school after fifth year.

A report by Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Renewables forecasts potential employment for up to 28,000 people in the Scottish offshore wind sector by 2020. Seven offshore wind farms are planned around the Scottish coastline, with three of them just 20 or so miles off the coast of Fife.

Efforts are underway to ensure that Fife makes the most of this opportunity, providing training to allay fears of future skills shortages and ensuring local employment.

"We have excellent quayside locations here and we also have a range of over 150 very experienced engineering companies in Fife," says Barbara Whiting, renewables champion for Fife Council.

A public private partnership - Fife Renewable Energy Skills Group - is spearheading initiatives to develop the region as a centre of excellence for renewable energy. Both Carnegie College and Adam Smith College are members and have been introducing courses to support the region's ambitions, in partnership with local businesses.

Adam Smith College is launching a Bachelor of Science degree in renewable energy, along with the University of Abertay and Dundee College. This adds to a portfolio of HNC and HND courses in renewable energy and a Professional Development Award, which were introduced last year.

The courses are run at the multi-million pound new Future Skills Centre at the college's Stenton campus at Glenrothes. "The PDA is basically a step higher than an HND and it can also be integrated into a degree course, so if somebody wanted to progress onto a degree course in renewable energy it ties in with that," says Dr Haroon Junaidi, lecturer in renewable energy.

The college also offers one-day introductory courses to renewables, which provide basic information and guidance on training and job opportunities. Renewables are also being added to the curriculum of existing apprenticeships for electrical and mechanical engineers.

"We provide vocational training in oil and gas at HNC and HND level. But what we also want to do is refocus some of that activity into the renewables sector, focus some of our education into how we look at the future of our energy and how we look at training people to be able to access some of these future jobs," says Aileen Lamden, executive director in charge of the Future Skills Centre, Adam Smith College.

There has also been major investment at Carnegie College's Rosyth campus, which has 10,000m2 of training facilities for electrical and mechanical engineering courses and modern apprenticeships in fabrication and welding.

The new Whitlock Energy Collaboration Centre there provides education, research and training resources focusing on renewable energy, with an interactive demonstration lab for emerging energy technologies.

This is where the wind turbine technician's apprenticeship was piloted before being rolled out at another five UK centres this year. "We will still be the only Scottish college delivering this, but there are more coming on board across the UK and we are working with them and supporting them," says Jim Brown, head of the Whitlock Energy Collaboration Centre.

This year, the college is piloting the Wind Turbine Operations and Maintenance Diploma as a full-time course for mature entrants with an engineering background, in response to industry demand. Apprenticeships for gas engineers, plumbers and electricians also include micro renewables in the curriculum.

`Fantastic opportunities on the horizon for young people'

Businesses diversifying into renewable energy want a range of employees with traditional skills, as well as new skills.

Burntisland Fabrications (BiFab) has its roots in the oil and gas industry and has branched out to manufacture supporting subsea jackets for offshore wind turbines.

"We have got 70 apprentices in total and I anticipate taking on another 12 this year, which would take us up to 82," says BiFab's operations manager Martin Adam. The company has been training its apprentices in fabrication and welding at Carnegie College for the past five years.

Mr Adam says there are fantastic opportunities on the horizon for young people. "We have 70 lucky kids in our business where they are going to see work for 15 maybe 20 years and beyond," he adds.

Babcock Marine also has apprentices here - 110 of them who are learning mechanical and electrical engineering, fabrication and welding. "As far as renewable is concerned, we would see it as electrical, mechanical - but we do believe we will still need welding - some of the traditional trades that we have used for a long, long time at Rosyth," says Joe McShane, the company's director of commercial business.

The company employs 27,000 people and has increased turnover in the last seven years from pound;600 million to pound;3 billion.

"We have done a lot of that through acquisition, but we have done a lot of it also through organic growth," says Mr McShane.

"There are very few growth businesses in the UK. The future nuclear business is undoubtedly one, but the renewable market - offshore wind, tidal, wave - is undoubtedly a future growth market and we want to be in it."

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