A lot goes into the construction and then operation of a wind farm.
Access roads are built; large components such as towers and blades are transported, foundations are laid to support the turbines, and a lot of machinery is involved in the assembly or towers, nacelles, and blade segments. The construction of a wind farm usually takes around 18 months and calls for hundreds of workers, including engineers, legal and finance staff, and consultants involved in the planning and design; civil, mechanical, and electrical trades workers involved in the construction, assembly, and commissioning; and labourers and machine operators to work with and around cranes, trucks, and diggers.
Once the construction is completed, anywhere upwards from a dozen key trade-qualified field-based roles support the operation and maintenance of wind power. These roles are wind farm (or turbine) technicians – electrical and mechanical – blade technicians, High-Voltage (HV) operators, site installation supervisors, and trade assistants. Wind turbine technicians have recently been added to the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) listing but blade technicians are yet to be included.
For the last few years, turbine technicians, blade technicians and electrical roles in wind have been in high demand. Also highly sought after are all types of engineers, and especially wind reliability engineers and SCADA engineers.
For a technician’s role in the wind sector, a trade of some kind is needed – either electrician, mechanical or diesel fitter, or engineer – or solid experience and competency working with mechanical systems, machinery, and problem solving in that context. This is then supplemented by relevant work licenses such as the construction industry white card, a high-risk work license for such things as dogging, working at heights, and other safety training endorsed by the Global Wind Organisation (see more detail on GWO below). For some technicians, more advanced training is required in industrial rope access (see more detail on IRATA below).
Choosing career as a technician in wind power in Australia means being comfortable working at heights, having a willingness to live regionally, and the ability to travel to different sites on an irregular basis. It often also requires shift work. It is a highly skilled and rewarding job looking after elements of construction and then routine, preventative, corrective, and reactive maintenance, and operations of turbines or blades on a wind farm.
According to data from LinkedIn, all of Australia’s top wind developers and asset managers had increased recruitment needs for wind technicians, blade technicians, and engineers and found it ‘hard’ to ‘very hard’ to fill these roles.
The types of occupations that make up the wind industry across professional fields are shown below with a traffic light system highlighting the level of demand for each job type. ‘Green’ suggests that demand is currently adequately met; ‘orange’ suggests that demand is currently mostly met but that skill shortages exist in some regions or over some periods; and ‘red’ flags that demand is not being met consistently and that skill shortages exist in most regions.
The most relevant industries in terms of transferable skills are the construction sector, mechanical or industrial engineering, oil and gas, mining and metals, and automotive. Anyone with experience or interests in composite materials might seriously consider a career as a blade technician. A particularity of blade technicians is that they will generally only work up the tower over the summer months, so it is common for these individuals to split the year working in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres following the sun.
GWO is a globally accepted safety training standard for the wind sector. The standard outlines the requirements of certain training courses that are delivered by certified training providers. Upon completion of a GWO course, individuals receive a GWO certificate which is accepted by all GWO member organisation as evidence of competence and knowledge of the specific safety standard. More information on GWO is available at www.globalwindsafety.org. Most of Australia’s wind power developers and operators are GWO members and the list of GWO training providers can be found at www.globalwindsafety.org/trainingproviders/findttraningprovider.
IRATA, instigated by the offshore oil and gas sector, is an international accepted qualification for rope access technicians. It describes a safe method of work and provides ongoing professional support to technicians. It is used across many industries, including the wind sector. IRATA qualification has three levels with a certain number of on-rope working hours needed to demonstrate proficiency at each level. More details are available at www.irata.org. There are around 20 IRATA Approved Training centres in Australia.