Interview: Job engine in reverse

Wednesday, 17 July, 2013 - 13:00

Up to now, the offshore wind industry has been an engine for job growth. Significant delays in legally guaranteed grid connections, along with the ­ongoing political debate over rising electricity prices and the role of ­offshore wind energy in Germany are now resulting in layoffs. Is the ­industry still attractive for specialists?

OWI: The industry is facing a political back-and-forth. How does that affect the job market?
Imke Goller-Wilberg: In a word, stagnation. As a head hunter, I don’t deal with people starting out on their careers, but with experienced experts. On the one hand, there is no great willingness to accept the risk of an initial probationary period of employment. On the other hand, companies are not investing in employees. The only positions being filled are those which arise due to business fluctuations. In fact, the tendency is more toward eliminating jobs. The industry is suffering greatly as a result of the current policies.
OWI: Is it still advisable to see the offshore wind industry as a potential employer?
Ronny Meyer: The industry has not had a single new order in the past year because the network operator TenneT has failed to connect any wind farms to the grid. The politicians are not the only ones who are looking at that; job applicants are too. Industries that get dragged down into public debates are kept at arm’s length. For their part, companies are trying to figure out ways to hold on to their workforces. What gets lost in all this is why we’re doing it in the first place. Nuclear power plants are supposed to be taken off line, and we don’t want any new coal-fired power plants in the course of the transition to clean energy, which is why offshore wind energy is set for a revival.

OWI: On the one hand, there’s not enough work. On the other hand, companies are looking for personnel. How do you explain that?
Goller-Wilberg: Despite the political debate, projects are being approved and financed; some are already in the construction phase.
Dr. Thomas Ull: That’s right. If an employee is lost, somebody has to step up to take his place. The question is whether companies still have the confidence to hire personnel. I think we’re going to see layoffs up until the Bundestag elections this autumn because the confidence just isn’t there.
Meyer: Nobody is placing orders at the beginning of the value chain due to the delays in getting the offshore grid connections set up. On the other end of the value chain, business is booming because several offshore wind farms are under construction.

OWI: That’s why specialists are still sought after. Has the standard of hiring only perfectly trained and immediately employable specialist personnel changed?
Goller-Wilberg: That depends. Take Dong Energy, for instance, one of my clients that has been in the offshore business for 20 years. They’re particularly keen to find experienced electrical engineers specialised in power plants for their transformer platforms. They couldn’t care less if the applicant has wind energy experience because they have that expertise in house and it can be taught. For such engineers, the salaries are through the roof.

OWI: And the rest?
Goller-Wilberg: The project business WindMW, which is currently building an offshore wind farm, needs specialists in all of the disciplines on an ad hoc basis and they have high expectations. They’re looking for people with offshore experience, ideally ­German speakers who have 10 years of experience in the offshore wind industry. Of course I have to pass on that one and must try to find people that match these requirements best possible. For instance, there is a lot of overlap with the oil and gas industry, ship manufacturing, and aerospace. But it’s a real struggle to portray these engineers as candidates rather than ready-made employees.
Meyer: Behind this is also the allegation that the industry does not want to train its people. In the offshore wind industry, 38 % of the companies train their own specialised employees. We have the problem, however, that the requirements of the industry do not dovetail perfectly with the traditional professions, which makes us more active in another way. We see ourselves as an industry that offers specialised training and numerous qualification opportunities.

OWI: Wind turbines are designed to last 20 to 25 years. With that time window, training seems worthwhile.

You can read the complete interview conducted by Torsten Thomas
in the latest issue of OFFSHORE WIND INDUSTRY.


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