Creating synergy between education and industry

With a 752 MW offshore wind farm rising on the horizon as of 2020 and another one in the following year, the southern Dutch province of Zeeland offers many job opportunities for young people in the province for at least the next two decades. Danish developer Ørsted, winner of the first offshore wind farm Borssele 1 & 2, works closely together with educational institute Scalda on training their future employees.

On Saturday 23 February, the Province of Zeeland organised an Open Day in Middelburg, in the run-up to the elections in March. Prior to the start of the open day, Wind Energy Magazine spoke to Nout Nagtegaal and John Leeman from Scalda, a Vlissingen-based MBO school (secondary vocational education), and Stefan de Bruijn, the Dutch communications manager for Ørsted. Later that day, they would organise a Masterclass Technical Innovations to reach out to the young generation in the province of Zeeland.

Cooperation between industry, education and government
When three years ago, the news came that the Borssele offshore wind farms 1, 2, 3 and 4 would be tendered, the Province of Zeeland, industry and educational institutions (secondary and higher) got together to discuss how to anticipate on this event and the broader effect of it on the region. This lead to the launch of Energy Port Zeeland, a rather unique platform where companies, educational institutions and any other party that wants to get involved with wind energy can join and prepare for the wind farms to come. Nagtegaal elaborates: “The region knows many small companies. Rather than becoming competitors, they chose to join forces. This worked out very well, currently the platform already has over 250 members. The port of Vlissingen is a good example of cooperation, look at the major track record it has built up over the past few years, this is really impressive. And although money is the binding factor, I can honestly say that there is also a good bond between the different players within the network.”

De Bruijn can only affirm. “Ørsted has a clear philosophy that no matter where we will start a project, the local or national region should benefit from it where possible. We preferably have our maintenance base in the region and create local jobs and work with local partners. When we went to the region for an orientation visit even before we even knew we would win the tender, we were pleasantly surprised to hear about Energy Port Zeeland. We knew right away that it would be easy to get in touch with all the stakeholders quickly and find a reliable partner in the province. In the autumn of 2016 we had our first meeting here in Middelburg and we have returned many times to speak with stakeholders about our plans and what opportunities we had available for them.”

Proximity of personnel
Another element that Ørsted took into consideration when selecting the maintenance base is the proximity of personnel. In the construction phase, around 1,000 people are needed for Borssele 1+2, at Ørsted and at their contractors. However, after completion some 50 to 100 persons will be needed to maintain the wind farm for the next 25 years. It is important to have the maintenance crew living in close proximity of the base so they can quickly go to wind farm, explains de Bruijn. Scalda is the ideal partner in the region. Leeman: “Our school is located just 1,000 metres away from where Ørsted’s maintenance base will be and our safety centre is also nearby.” De Bruijn adds: “Scalda provides the education level we need, level 3 and 4, but, more importantly, they also started with their wind energy module so we can welcome the first graduates at the end of this year.” The developer is also in contact with HZ University of Applied Sciences who are offering a Minor in Renewable Energy but as they were just starting up, it would be of less direct use at the start of the Borssele 1 & 2 project operational phase. De Bruijn: “We continue to work with HZ as they will become important for future wind farms.” Scalda is also working closely with HZ.

Scalda started orientating three years ago. This resulted in the wind energy programme WindDock. WindDock is a wind energy study route that is offered to three fulltime MBO, level 4 studies, in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and maintenance engineering, as an add-on. Nagtegaal: “With WindDock we are offering something unique. A turbine is a hybrid machine, consisting of mechanical, electrical and censoring elements, therefore we chose to set up the study route alongside the electrical and machinal engineering studies and maintenance study lines.”

The content of the study route was developed in close cooperation with the industry. Nagtegaal: “Ironically, it used to be hard for us to get into a dialogue with companies active in the wind industry. They did not see the need to talk to us as they provided in-house (re)training. Now, with all the large wind farms planned for the future, they need all the hands they can get. Around 70% of the jobs are at MBO level so all of the sudden all eyes are on us now.” Scalda has a strong group of teachers that is in direct contact with companies within the Energy Port Zeeland network. Nagtegaal: “We did not have a reference so we consulted with companies. What are their requirements. In the case of Ørsted, we are working with a competence logbook.” He continues: “This is what makes us probably different from other educational institutes, we first focused on building up long term relationships.”

Hands on, certified study
Scalda got the WindDock study route officially certified. This means that students will graduate with additional certified parts. In addition, the study route is also recently GWO certified for the technical part, being the Basic Technical Training and Basic Safety Training. “This is interesting for future employers as it saves them the costs for these trainings,” Nagtegaal says. The programme is built up in 4 modules. Students will spent some hours each week on the modules. These could include classes, internships, excursions, trainings, etc. Scalda is working close with companies to provide their students with practical experience. “We will offer regular internships, graduation projects, BBLs (4 days work and 1 day study) and of course job positions,” de Bruijn explains.

Scalda also organised a complete wind lab and wind turbine simulator where students can practise in a realistic environment. To finance these projects, Scalda is applying for funding from a € 2 million regional investment fund. The preparations for the subsidy application is financed from the investment programme ‘Zeeland in Stroomversnelling (Zeeland in acceleration)’. Half of the subsidy has to come from the industry and half from local and provincial governments.” Leeman: “Stefan de Bruijn and I are going to pitch for the subsidy soon. If we get the subsidy we will have the next 4 years, starting January 2020, to determine the definite deliverables for the programme.”

Last August, the two first groups started the wind route, one of 20 electrical engineering students and another of 20 mechanical engineering students. These students are already in their third year. The WindDock study is also available to professionals who want to retrain. Scalda already have the first commercial group of 7 professionals. Nagtegaal: “The industry asks for level 4 graduates but we see this pool is becoming thin so we are also focusing on ‘upgrading’ level 3 graduates.”

School of the future
It doesn’t automatically mean that graduates will work in wind, Nagtegaal warns. The knowledge gained can be applied to other energy technologies in the energy transition. “In the old days, a welding course would last you for another 30 odd years. In the wind industry, as like with other technologies, innovations follow each other up quickly. The turbines are getting bigger and bigger. You need to be more flexible now and act quickly. That’s why it is important for schools to work closely with the industry and offer a study package that is flexible so you can adapt it quickly to stay in tune with the developments in the industry. We call this an ecosystem.”

Long term outlook
With the construction works starting next year, will the developer have the manpower they need in time? De Bruijn: “For Borssele 1 & 2, we have everything in control and I don’t think the industry will have too many problems finding the right people for the next few projects like Borssele 3 & 4 or Hollandse Kust 1 &2. However, when we get to the 7th or 8th wind farm, this could become more of a topic.” Both De Bruijn and the two Scalda men agree that the Danish developer is an attractive future employer. Ørsted is the market leader in offshore wind but it is also one of the few 100% green energy developers. This could become more of a deciding element when looking for future employers says Nagtegaal. De Bruijn agrees: “This trend is setting in now. The fact that we are an international operating company can also be attractive. Ørsted offers all kinds of career opportunities, worldwide.” In fact, Ørsted provides all new employees with an internal training in their first year, including visits to facilities by Ørsted or partners in the UK, Germany and Denmark. For Borssele 1 & 2, Ørsted works together with Siemens Gamesa, the turbine provider for the project.

Start with the parents
For a long time now in the Netherlands, practical, technical jobs have not been very popular with youngsters. What is Scalda doing to reach out to young people? Nagtegaal: “As MBO, we have the obligation to organise the influx of new students. With a decline in young people and a rising demand, this is a challenge. We try to send out our message as well as we can. By participating in open days like we do today, online campaigns but also by sending out second year students to, preferably, their former high school where they hold presentations.” All three men agree that it is important to reach out not only to the kids but also to parents. At that age, parents still have a big influence on the youth. Leeman: “It is a relative young technology but it is sad to realise how few people know what is involved with an offshore wind farm.” It is only recently that people are becoming more aware of offshore wind, De Bruijn affirms. “In 2016, we were only approached by companies and governmental bodies. Now my mailbox is full of requests and questions from students and kids!” This has likely to do with the growing awareness of climate change.

Optimisation and digitalisation
One wish from the industry is to standardise and digitalise processes to make it even more cost-effective. This means, less people will be needed for each wind farm. Will this affect the future demand for trained people? De Bruijn doesn’t think so. “Developers and turbine suppliers already monitor all their turbines from one centre to see when maintenance is needed. Also, in the future turbine blades will be made fully automated and will be repaired by drones, activities that are currently still performed by people. However, there will always be a need for maintenance people. What you do see is that the turbines are getting larger so the number of maintenance crew per MW has reduced. You still need maintenance people for each turbine and the ideal number of turbines in a future wind farm will be 90 to 100, like in Borssele 1 & 2.

Interview Scalda & Ørsted in Wind Energy Magazine No 1, 2019.

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