Bridging the Wind Energy Workforce Gap

Feb. 21, 2023

An article by Tara McMurtry for WINDExchange

The Biden administration has set its sights on 100% clean electricity by 2035 and a net-zero economy by 2050. Wind energy—now the largest source of renewable power in the United States—can help us get there. To meet this goal, the growing wind energy industry will need a diverse, qualified workforce to fill a wide range of roles. However, many employers say they have a hard time finding qualified applicants to fill positions. At the same time, recent graduates report difficulty finding jobs in the wind energy industry. Researchers have dubbed this mutual challenge the “workforce gap.”

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Wind Energy Technologies Office (WETO) is working to bridge this gap by supporting research into land-based and offshore wind energy workforce needs and trends, as well as programs that help prepare the next generation of wind energy workers.

With WETO’s support, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have published several reports that illuminate the hiring and training needs of employers and job seekers, respectively, in the U.S. wind energy industry. The reports cover workforce education and training programs, as well as opportunities for educational institutions. These reports include:

Preparing the Future Wind Energy Workforce

All four reports indicate that wind-energy-related experience gives job seekers a competitive edge. The DOE Collegiate Wind Competition (CWC), which is managed by NREL, provides college students an opportunity to gain this valuable experience through real-world technology, finance, project development, communications, and outreach experience.

“By participating in the CWC, students build the skills, knowledge, and industry connections that will help them land jobs in the wind and renewable energy industries,” said NREL competition manager Elise DeGeorge. “Many CWC alumni have gone on to work for companies like Invenergy, Ørsted, and Scout Clean Energy, and they cite their competition experience as a key factor in landing a job in wind energy.”

DOE recently announced the 13 teams selected to advance to the CWC 2023 final event, which will be held this spring in Colorado. CWC 2023 invites students to develop solutions to challenges associated with fixed-bottom offshore wind energy projects—a sector of the industry poised for significant growth in the coming years.

During the months leading up to the final event, the selected teams will complete wind turbine prototype design reports and wind farm site designs, conduct outreach with the wind industry and their local communities, and build and test model wind turbines. At the final event, the teams will present their work to a panel of wind industry experts and test their model wind turbines in an on-site wind tunnel with a sea simulation tank.

This past year, the CWC changed its timeline and application process to encourage new and more diverse schools to get involved in the competition. DOE will soon begin accepting applications for CWC 2024.

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