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Universities stepping up to close knowledge gap in offshore wind

The Offshore Wind Resource Group want to close the competence gap in the offshore wind industry. Photo: Linea Bancel.
By Linea Bancel|Published 09 August 2022|Category: News

Access to engineers with an adequate background is one of the strongest concerns of Energy Valley’s Offshore Wind Resource Group. Combining hands-on experience and gaining more generalized knowledge can be the solution, says professor Kristin Falk at USN.  

Offshore wind is a rapidly growing energy market worldwide and will play a key role in decarbonizing our society. UK and Denmark are leading this process in Europe, and for Norway to not lag behind, it needs to accelerate the rate at which it develops its offshore wind farms. The Offshore Wind Resource Group within Energy Valley works on a project to secure competence development within offshore wind.

Relocating knowledge

“Having the right competence and the ability to attract talents will be key to success. Norway has a pool of talents via the O&G that could be used.” says Project Manager Offshore Wind at Equinor, Frederic Spiegel.

Professor Kristin Falk at the University College of Southeast Norway (USN) is one of the people involved in the project. At USN she is responsible for the Subsea track and fronting research on systems engineering. She believes that using industry experts to teach more generic engineers to fill the competency gap in the offshore wind industry will make a lot of sense. At USN they focus on giving the students practical experience as well as theoretic.

Experienced group

The Offshore Wind Resource Group, consisting of among other Equinor, Aker OffshoreWind, Aker Solutions, ABB, TechnipFMC, and Seagust, experiences that there is a lack of engineers graduating from Norwegian universities with the necessary background to tender and execute the upcoming offshore wind projects.

“Members of the Offshore Wind Resource Group say that the graduates from the Norwegian universities are not enough, and they, therefore, have to get workforce from abroad.” says Head of Business Development Daniel Miravalles.

Daniel Miravalles Diez Head of business development. Photo: Private.

Lack of resources to develop the workforce

On the other hand, there is a consolidated pool of engineers with extensive experience in the oil and gas industry that can adapt their expertise without needing to enroll in a full-time master’s program.

“A lot of industrial engineers, mechanical engineers, and others want to transition to offshore wind, hydrogen, or other renewables. The need for this transition is because there will be more projects in offshore wind and less in oil and gas. And they want to do it in a seamless way without needing to leave their job for one or two years to take a master’s degree and come back.” says Miravalles.

While many companies, with a traditional oil and gas portfolio, are now entering the offshore wind market and will benefit from keeping the experienced workforce, they have flagged that they do not have enough resources themselves to offer a competence development program, such as geotechnical engineers and civil engineers from the construction industry who also can benefit from this initiative.

Mapping the competence gap

The goal of this project is to map the competence gap in the current workforce and future graduates and propose a competence development system to fill it, Miravalles explains.

“We are mapping the competence needed for owners, developers, and tier 1 suppliers so that they can successfully enter the offshore wind industry. In the second phase, we are looking at different educational options that need to be improved or developed to provide the industry with the needed competent workforce.” Says Miravalles.

Energy Valley has an ongoing dialogue with different educational institutions in Norway and abroad, as well as a cooperation plan between the industrial players to establish a common platform for competence development.

Establishing a competence development plan will help engineers with different backgrounds, such as oil & gas, construction, and other energy industries to adapt their capabilities to the new offshore wind job market.

Professor Kristin Falk. Photo: Private.

Collaborating with academia 

“Within the field of Systems Engineering at the University of South-eastern Norway (USN) the professors all have a substantial industrial background, and we build our programs acknowledging that people learn by doing, and not by listening. We also encourage effective micro learnings, and “just in time” learnings.” says Kristin Falk says and adds:

“Strengthening the learning IN industry is crucial for the energy- and other industries. Unfortunately, the ancient university bureaucracy does not incentive such learning. At the industry master’s program at USN, we are starting an industry research school in collaboration with USN, NTNU, UiA. Our next step is to strengthen micro/nano courses – according to the needs of the individuals and companies. We are not able to do this alone.”

By increasing the level of expertise it is easier to move the knowledge to other industry fields, explains Falk. “There, I think universities and academia have a very important role when it comes to bringing from one level to another”. Falk exemplifies this with a student who worked at TechnipFMC for three years while studying. “The student suddenly joined Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace because they had gained generalized knowledge and at the same time hands-on experience”.  

Establishing a common educational platform 

“Companies need to support universities to ramp up programs and topics in new Energy. We need to build programs to give the proper skills to the workforce working in other industries and would like to start in renewables, and also avoid a ‘cannibalization cycle’ between the different players (cost increase, slow down in project development) by focusing on the above.” says Frederic Spiegel.

“The companies will benefit from keeping an experienced workforce. They will also have access to a bigger pool of new graduates if an agreement with the universities is reached.” says Miravalles.

While the largest companies might have resources for internal training, small and medium-sized businesses lack both trainee competence and resources to ensure the necessary training.

“Establishing a common educational platform will help to close this gap between SMEs and larger companies. The employees can improve their education and transition to jobs that enable a sustainable society without the need of leaving their current positions. The knowledge transfer from the oil and gas industry and an upgraded education are key to this process.” says Miravalles.

Ingrid Snustad, Scientist, Sintef Energi engaging children at the Energy Connected conference. Photo: Linea Bancel

Tackling the problem ahead of time

Another challenge with competence that the industry flags is provoking interest in STEM education from an early age. This challenge is not a part of the ongoing project but is something Energy Valley hopes to tackle later.

“You cannot wait for an 18-year-old to decide to become an electrical engineer. I bet if you ask an 18-year-old interested in the energy transition, what they want to study, they will choose to study environmental engineering.” Says Miravalles and adds:

“That is great, but you won’t be able to assign a wind turbine, be a process engineer, which is needed in the hydrogen industry, or a civil engineer that is needed to build the foundations of the windmill. We need to show that we need civil, mechanical, electrical, technical, process, and chemical engineers and show how this contributes to the energy transition”

The topic is something that has been brought up both in the resource meetings and meetings with other cluster members. And is also a part of conferences like Energy Connected, and conferences in Manchester, Copenhagen, and London.

Start earlier 

“It’s always mentioned that we don’t have enough competence, and we need to start earlier”.

At the Energy Connected conference, an important part of the program is the Children’s Mini-Conference, where different research institutions and industry players are invited to provoke children’s interest in science and energy technology for future decisions.

The Norwegian Research Council offers “Nysgjerrigper” for pupils and teachers to provoke an interest in research at an early age. Equinor is also working to inspire children and teens to study science and work with innovation and is working with seven regional science centers in Norway. But Miravalles feels that the way the challenge is faced is too scattered, and fears that not everyone will be introduced to the different industrial career options.

“We will look at this challenge at a later stage and hope to collaborate with the industry and public stakeholders. If we are to succeed with this, we need to have a systematic approach to encourage more kids, teenagers, and even adults to work within the fields that are needed.”