Feds: Wind industry struggling to find workers

Source: By Heather Richards, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 8, 2019

Wind industry employers can’t find workers, and graduates of wind training programs can’t find jobs, according to those surveyed for a federal report released yesterday.

The U.S. wind industry has ballooned in recent years as the cost to develop the renewable energy source has dropped. Employment in the industry jumped by 32% from 2015 to 2016 and has continued to grow yearly as more turbines are raised in the United States. “Wind technician” was the second-fastest-growing job in the United States last year, according to the Department of Labor.

But hiring troubles abound: In a new report, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found a likely gap between the education for wind jobs and the needs of a growing industry.

The report authors surveyed 247 wind energy employers and 50 educational institutions that offer wind or renewable energy training programs.

Nearly 70% of the employers said they had trouble finding qualified workers. About one-quarter of those employers had sought employees outside the United States to identify qualified candidates.

Meanwhile, graduates of wind and renewable energy programs often go into other industries after finishing their studies, according to the report.

“The difficulty of employers identifying well-qualified candidates while wind and renewable energy graduates report difficulty finding jobs in the wind industry suggests a potential gap in the wind industry workforce,” the study said.

Some jobs were easier to find than others. Just 33% of employers reported that wind technicians were hard to employ, while 94% said they had “some or great difficulty” hiring trade workers like electricians and welders.

To close the gap, more education, and targeted education, may be needed, the report said.

Though the rise in wind has largely been an onshore boom, offshore wind jobs may be in demand soon as states including New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey make good on commitments to procure power from offshore wind.

“If educational institutions do not increase class sizes and maintain current capacities, the number of additional programs with a wind component needed would range from nearly 900 to more than 2,500,” the report said of meeting industry demand for a skilled workforce, according to some job projections.

A desire to encourage more wind training has been raised by industry and House Democrats (E&E Daily, June 12).

A bill introduced by Rep. Bill Keating (D-Mass.), H.R. 3068, would offer $25 million in annual grants for wind training programs over the next five years to meet the education gap.

Some conservatives criticized the bill, saying that demand would create wind jobs without federal spending. Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) called the bill a “handout to unions” during a June debate in a House Natural Resources subcommittee.