Wind Energy Needs More Workers—and Fast

June 18, 2024

Wind energy needs to grow its workforce for everything from designing and manufacturing transportable components, like wind turbine blades, to jobs on offshore wind farms. Industry is working with researchers, academia, and government to build that workforce. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Written for WINDExchange by Caitlin McDermott-Murphy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The wind energy industry in the United States is booming. This significant growth comes with one critical question: Can the wind energy workforce keep up?

The answer? It depends.

Today, the wind energy sector is facing challenges in recruiting and training workers across various fields needed for its operations. And yet, the jobs are coming—and coming fast. According to a 2024 study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the wind energy industry will likely have a deficit of about 124,000 workers by 2030.

“If we are going to meet our targeted wind energy goals, there needs to be a workforce to support the industry,” said Jeremy Stefek, an NREL researcher, in a 2022 NREL article on the wind energy workforce gap.

The experts, who receive support from DOE, are working closely with industry members to both understand workforce barriers and help overcome them. Only then can the country build a sustainable, domestic wind energy industry, which is essential to fully decarbonize by 2050.

What Are Wind Energy’s Workforce Challenges?

One of the biggest barriers that can prevent new workers from joining the wind energy industry might seem like a simple one: People don’t always know it’s an option.

Another challenge? Even if a student or worker in a similar industry is keen to start a career in wind energy, they might not have adequate access to trainings, education, or internships and apprenticeships they need to succeed. Plus, not all wind energy jobs require the same training.

Wind turbine service technicians are expected to be the country’s fastest growing job in the next decade, relative to the number that exist now. But wind energy also needs researchers, scientists, and engineers as well as trade workers, teachers, construction workers, finance and legal experts, manufacturing workers, welders, and more.

To fully realize the economic benefits of developing an offshore wind energy workforce, researchers and industry members must intensify efforts to attract and train the next generation of workers. This was emphasized by Laura Hastings, the STEM and workforce development lead at the U.S. Department of Energy's Wind Energy Technologies Office, during the 2024 International Offshore Wind Partnering Forum’s workforce summit.

Luckily, DOE and national lab researchers and staff can offer a wide range of resources, research, and guidance to help the industry do exactly that.

How Can Industry Overcome Workforce Barriers?

The answer? “Meet people where they are,” said Kerry Bowie, who also attended the 2024 International Offshore Wind Partnering Forum’s workforce summit sponsored by WETO. Bowie is the founder, president, and executive director of a private company, which aims to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in clean energy.

NREL researchers, including Chloe Constant, a senior project leader who focuses on community engagement and workforce in NREL’s wind energy program, facilitated the summit to hear participants, like Bowie, share their perspectives and advice on how to achieve a strong, sustainable, and diverse wind energy workforce in the United States.

For example, Bowie and others discussed the importance of:

  • Investing in individuals and communities that have been disproportionately burdened by historical energy development.
  • Focusing on job quality and child care.
  • Creating tangible plans to reach more diverse audiences.

According to a 2022 NREL report, U.S. Offshore Wind Workforce Assessment, the U.S. offshore wind energy industry must prioritize diversity and inclusion initiatives to reach their workforce goals. The report, which analyzed current offshore wind energy workforce gaps and opportunities, also recommended industry focus on attracting and training skilled tradespeople and partner with global, national, regional, and state organizations to overcome major workforce challenges.

Great. But how can the industry do all that? Together.

The Wind Energy Workforce Network Initiative invites members to work together on these gaps and opportunities for the land-based and offshore wind energy industries. Email to learn more and join the network. And WINDExchange recently published a series of three new resources, developed with compiled input from industry members, to help the wind energy industry, researchers, and prospective workers support a rapidly growing workforce.

The WINDExchange Offshore Wind Energy Workforce Development Best Practices resource consolidates input from 250 participants who attended the Third Annual Offshore Wind Workforce Summit held on March 28, 2023. The resource offers guidance on how industry can, for example:

  • Collaborate with unions, manufacturers, and colleges.
  • Partner with state and federal governments, host communities, and more to develop a diverse and equitable workforce pipeline.
  • Ensure community members near ports or manufacturing facilities are encouraged to join the local workforce.

A second WINDExchange resource, the Offshore Wind Energy Workforce Manufacturing and Supply Chain Resource, estimates the number of workers and types of jobs that U.S. manufacturing facilities and supply chain might need to make and build enough wind turbine components to reach the country’s target of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030.

This might sound like a niche career but, according to the report, manufacturing facilities and their suppliers could represent a significant portion of the future offshore wind energy workforce.

And, as workers start to fill these new roles, the industry needs guidance on how to keep them safe. Imagine climbing 100 meters above the ocean to fix an offshore wind turbine! The Offshore Wind Workforce Safety Standards & Training Resource can help the industry adopt specific safety standards and training that are tailored to their workers’ needs.

The report can help developers identify which standards and trainings are relevant to their specific project based on its location as well as who is responsible for implementing those standards. Site-specific trainings can help prepare offshore wind energy workers to:

  • Work on specific vessels.
  • Construct wind turbines.
  • Operate and repair offshore wind turbines.
  • Oversee offshore activities from land.

Career Solutions for Students, Educators, and Prospective Workers

But how about students and workers in adjacent industries? Where should they look for trainings and other opportunities to build a career in wind energy?

The Wind Career Map breaks down all the many, diverse roles available within the wind energy industry and what level of training is required to enter each.

Folks who are interested in a career path but unsure how to get the necessary training can access a map of wind energy education and training programs available at U.S. community colleges, universities, and other institutions. And both students and teachers can find curricula, teaching materials, and other guidance on wind energy careers on the WINDExchange website and participate in the Collegiate Wind Competition to network with industry and get hands-on practice working on wind energy challenges.

Work for the Workforce

In short, building a sustainable wind energy workforce means “bringing the jobs to the community,” said Marjaneh Issapour, director of the Renewable Energy and Sustainability Center at Farmingdale State College, who was another International Offshore Wind Partnering Forum’s workforce summit participant and member of the workforce network.

Researchers and industry members are working together to ensure that’s exactly what happens.

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