Working in the renewable energy sector

Renewable energy is a fast growing industry that has the potential to generate tens of thousands of jobs and offers long-term job security.

Wind turbine With rapid development already taking place in renewables, newcomers to the industry will have the opportunity to play a major part. In the UK alone over 600 companies engage in wind and marine energy related business activities. These range from large energy utility companies through to small organisations with only a handful of employees.

Careers in renewables tend to be challenging but there is huge potential for advancement.

“Working environments vary depending on the area you specialise in. You could work outdoors on site, both on land and out at sea, in an office, or even in a laboratory,” highlights Sophie Bennett, skills and employment policy officer at RenewableUK. “Some roles, such as site or field engineers, could require extended periods working away from home, while other allow for more regular hours. Many roles involve travel and working in unique places.”

Career opportunities within the renewable energy sector

The variety of career pathways and entry routes into the renewables sector is vast. A single project requires the contribution of many people employed in many different jobs, so individuals with a range of backgrounds and skill sets are needed. Jobs in the sector can be split into project development phases:

  • Research, planning and development - e.g. data analysts, planners, software developers, GIS technicians, environmental analysts, oceanographers, ecologists, aerodynamics specialists, technical experts, scientists, mechanical and electrical engineers.
  • Design and manufacture - e.g. procurement and selection of kit, technical designers, mechanical and electrical engineers, electrical and grid connection design, geophysicists, marine/technical experts.
  • Construction and installation - e.g. project managers, contract managers, site management, cabling, civil engineers, construction.
  • Operations and maintenance - e.g. grid connection, electricity generation, physical inspection and maintenance, technician.
  • Support services - e.g. business development, communication and public relations, human resources, finance, legal support, administration, facilities management.

Skills and qualifications needed to work in the renewable energy industry

“Core STEM subjects are needed for most roles in renewables,” says Bennett. “Some enter the industry through apprenticeships which offer the chance to gain paid experience and learn ‘on the job’ while studying for a qualification. Alternatively, entrants can gain higher qualifications with relevant graduate and postgraduate courses. If you’re a graduate in a STEM subject, you already have skills that are sought after.

“Employers tend to look for entrants with professional qualification as a benchmark of competency and a sign of dedication and achievement. They are a good way to progress your career. The IET, IMechE, and ICE are particularly relevant to renewables,” she notes.

Renewable energy apprenticeship opportunities

RenewableUK launched the Renewable Energy Apprenticeships Programme (REAP) in October 2010, to aid the renewables industry in nurturing homegrown talent. This led to the creation of the Wind Turbine Operations and Maintenance Apprenticeship in collaboration with the National Skills Academy for Power (NSAP) and Energy & Utility Skills.

“The course is delivered by six training centres around the UK and the qualification is awarded by City & Guilds. A second competence-based apprenticeship pathway covering installation and commissioning expertise is now available as well,” notes Bennett.

Salaries in the renewable energy sector

Starting salaries can vary significantly according to the employer, project and job role, but as an example an operations assistant can start at around £18,000, a wind turbine technician around £20,000 and a structural engineer in the offshore wind sector can earn around £25,000 - the same amount as a civil design engineer.

Find out more about careers in the renewable energy sector

Further information on apprenticeships and careers within the renewable energy industry can be found at the following sites: