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All aboard: How today’s workforce can help treble highly skilled jobs by 2030

: Earlier this year, the UK’s Offshore Wind Sector Deal set ambitious targets to treble highly-skilled jobs from 7,200 today, to 27,000 by 2030. Whose job is it to find the workers we’ll need, and when?

Developing a highly skilled workforce is a long-term investment. That is partly why the UK Government has set out such an ambitious target for offshore wind jobs over a decade in advance. Collectively it will take our industry the best part of that decade to achieve this.

Training 20,000 people will require a considerable effort by educators and industry together to attract and develop a highly skilled and capable talent pipeline. At the same time, the industry has a fantastic opportunity to broaden the demographics of the sector, particularly in BAME representation.

Raising the flag for apprenticeships

A critical enabler to a sustainable talent pipeline is attracting bright and enthusiastic apprentices, which makes good relationships with local schools, sixth form colleges and universities essential.

Every initiative needs to inform, inspire and educate. One of the best ways to learn what works is to knowledge share with your peer group.. Among the most memorable experiences for a student is to take them through the entire project lifecycle from design, through to construction, commissioning, operation and decommissioning. An initiative like that requires the involvement of the end to end supply chain. Networks regionally and nationally are also important, whether it’s a local working group or an initiative like the National STEM Ambassador scheme.

Plotting a course for success

At JDR, we’re focused on creating authentic practical experiences that encourage students’ learning by doing. We’ve invited hundreds of students here to take part in activities, like interactive fact-finding missions and math challenges to solve design engineering problems.

More recently, we’ve involved our supply chain partners with demonstrations of virtual reality training, so students saw what it’s like to visit an offshore wind farm. The feedback from schools has been overwhelmingly positive. Maintaining the momentum helps us to do more, reach more children and work with more partners. Our participation in working groups means that different suppliers can complement each other’s activities to further enhance students’ experience.

Ready the crew

Almost all successful initiatives are due to the people behind them. Attracting a new workforce relies on your existing workforce, so internal and external promotion of STEM initiatives is vital to spread enthusiasm and good will. Without colleagues’ support, a lot of what we need to do simply isn’t possible. At JDR, I am lucky that my colleagues regularly go above and beyond their everyday roles; volunteering their expertise to engage with students and to attract potential apprentices, graduates and workers from other industries.

STEM Ambassadors, typically ex-graduates and apprentices are indispensable in providing a personal view on careers in our industry. Students can ask them questions a career adviser would simply not have the experience to answer.

Keeping one’s bearings 

In the early stages of an outreach programme, the target seems distant. You invest in making a memorable experience of an afternoon, a day, a week, with little prospect of ever seeing those students again. That makes it all the more worthwhile when you hear a story of that early engagement paying off. I recently met a student who attended our 2016 STEM event. They were inspired to study for a level 2 engineering qualification at College and then applied for an apprenticeship in offshore wind. I was stunned that a student was still living the impact of that day – there’s no greater recognition than that.

Another one of our great success stories is an engineering apprentice who joined us aged 18, we are now sponsoring them through university to achieve their BEng in Mechanical Engineering and IMECHE chartered status. He’s graduated through several roles; Engineering Technician, Design Technician, Senior Design Engineer, Lead Engineer as well as gaining his level 3 through to HND in Mechanical Engineering.

The horizon and beyond

2019 has been a turning point for us, and is reflective of the direction of our industry; this year we’ve taken on twelve apprentices, including five graduates, our biggest ever intake. With a clear target we recognise that now is the time to be investing in our talent pipeline. It’s imperative that as an industry we encourage apprenticeship roles, to help smooth gaps at the mid-senior level later.

While apprenticeships are about technical skills and industry standards, they’re also about making connections with people. Whether that’s through STEM events, work experience placements, apprenticeships, graduate roles or professional career development, everyone at every organisational level has a part to play in developing the highly skilled, diverse workforce we need for 2030.

by Vicki Ashton, Strategic Resourcing and Talent Manager for JDR Cable Systems, part of TFK.Group