Learn by doing, German renewables companies bid to beat labour shortage

FILE PHOTO: Power-generating wind turbines are pictured at a wind park near Prenzlau, Germany June 13, 2022. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse


By Maria Martinez and Riham Alkousaa

BERLIN (Reuters) – German wind power developer SL Naturenergie has been looking for a senior project developer for two years now without success.

The company, in the west German town of Gladbeck, needs to expand its workforce of 50 by a fifth to ensure it can keep up with growing orders, but is struggling to fill all 10 job vacancies.

SL Naturenergie’s predicament is common in the renewables sector where companies, from startups to medium sized and blue-chip firms, are competing for a limited pool of labour with appropriate skills.

Germany aims for 80% of its gross electricity consumption to be covered by renewables by 2030, almost double its share in 2021 and one of the most ambitious targets in the world. But meeting that goal will largely depend on whether Europe’s biggest economy can adapt its workforce in time.

Currently it faces a shortage of around 216,000 skilled workers needed for the expansion of the solar and wind energy sectors, a study by German organisation KOFA, or the Competence Centre for securing skilled labour, showed.

“We can keep up with orders, but the shortage of workers is a problem because we have to hire basically anyone,” Wolfgang Gruendinger, spokesperson for Berlin-based solar company Enpal told Reuters.  

Last year, Enpal opened its own centre south of Berlin to train up installers of residential solar panels over two weeks before they join experienced installers on the job.

“You can really learn the job quickly without any previous qualifications,” Gruendinger said, adding that Enpal has trained more than a thousand people who were eventually hired and is booked out for the next six months.

Not all companies can afford to invest in training schemes. Those that do, however, will help ease a wider labour problem across the German economy where a shortage of general skilled workers rose by 30% last year, with 1.3 million jobs unfilled, a study by KOFA published on Monday showed.

Going forward, the labour market faces a transformation. A study by the German Institute for Employment Research (IAB) estimates there will be an additional 544,000 jobs in the German economy by 2025, while 132,000 jobs are expected to disappear as automakers move away from combustion engines to electric vehicles and energy suppliers phase out fossil fuels.

“The ecological transition will create jobs, but it will also generate a structural change in the labour market,” said Markus Janser, senior researcher at IAB.

SL Naturenergie took on Jakob Kasperidus, 35, a supermarket branch manager before joining the company, as a junior project developer.

The first few months on the job were not easy, Kasperidus said, but working in tandem with senior project developers for two and half years he has adapted to the job.     

“It was an absolute stroke of luck for me,” Kasperidus says of the career switch.


Younger generations show a preference for jobs with a green impact, over occupations in industries that don’t seek to improve the environment, Janser said. Furthermore, the shortage of qualified workers means wages are usually higher.

GRAPHIC: Young generations show a preference for green jobs https://www.reuters.com/graphics/GERMANY-ECONOMY/RENEWABLES-WORKERS/klpygmonepg/chart.png

“The idea that green jobs aren’t well paid is a myth,” Janser said. In many jobs in the renewable energy sector, pay is above average, he said, citing a renewable energy wage premium  of more than 10% in construction and installation activities, as well as architectural and engineering services.  

Tapping new engineering graduates is another way to find staff, but while younger people like the idea of green industries they seem less keen on studying for degrees in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering or renewable energies. Volker Quaschning, a professor of renewable energy systems at HTW university in Berlin, says a third of places on these courses at HTW are unfilled.  

“There are relatively good job prospects in all economic sectors, so the younger generation might study more in line with their interests and perhaps avoid technical studies,” he said. 

Trained craftsmen are also highly sought after. “When you need solar panels on the roof or you need to change the heating system, who does that? It’s done by craftsmen, it’s not done by academics,” said Jan Strohschein, CEO of greenjobs.de, a website advertising jobs in the sector. 

The German government is trying to encourage vocational training, a spokesperson from the economics and climate protection ministry said, including a new programme from this month offering 90% subsidies for people training as heat pump specialists.  

Last month Germany also unveiled draft reforms on skills training accreditation and promoting immigration in a bid to plug labour shortages in the economy. They include more recognition of foreign training certificates and allowing people to come to Germany to do internships before finding a job. 

Lydia Malin (OTC:MLLNF), a researcher at the German Economic Institute in Cologne, said the reforms should make it easier for craftsmen to work in Germany although a still lengthy bureaucratic visa process and competition from other European countries for skilled workers remain hurdles.

If wind and photovoltaic projects take longer than planned to complete due to labour shortages, Berlin’s 2030 deadline to be 80% reliant on renewables for power generation will be in jeopardy. 

“I can’t estimate at all how fast we’ll make progress in the next five to 10 years. Personally, I still see a big question mark as to whether we can do it. But I also don’t want to say it’s impossible,” Malin said. 

“I haven’t given up hope yet.” 


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