Fewer and fewer students are choosing energy programmes – who will work in offshore wind farms in the Baltic Sea?


As the renewable energy market grows, the need for professionals who can work in this field is inevitably growing. Students are encouraged to choose the already in-demand field of energy specialist not only by additional scholarships, but also by energy project developers working with educational institutions. There are fears that Lithuania may face a shortage of the right people if changes in education are not made.

According to the State Data Agency, at the end of 2022, 13,300 people were employed in electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning, an increase of 28% compared to the end of 2021.

However, the figures are far less impressive when looking at the training of new professionals in the country’s educational institutions. Vilnius Gediminas Technical University produces only around 80 energy specialists each year, while other universities and colleges are no better off – in recent years, the popularity of energy engineering degree programmes has been declining significantly, and the number of first-year students is getting smaller and smaller.

According to Edgars Maladauskas of the Lithuanian Wind Energy Association (LVEA), with the growth of the renewable energy market, the preparation of new specialists is a matter of particular importance.

“The development of the first offshore wind farm in the Baltic Sea alone will require the installation of up to 50 wind farms – the design, installation, construction and subsequent operation of their towers will require energy specialists. In addition, the number of onshore wind farms is also growing, so the demand for workers in this field is only increasing year on year,” comments Mr Maladauskas.

According to him, the shortage of local specialists is already forcing developers of renewable energy projects to call on installation crews from foreign countries: “This situation could escalate to the point where the lack of workers could also put a major brake on the development of renewable energy in Lithuania. Given that Lithuania plans to produce up to 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, it is essential to increase the number of specialists working in this field now.”

Business is willing to cooperate

The Ministry of Energy and the private sector have for some time been encouraging students to choose energy and engineering specialities through scholarships. In 2022, the Ministry had planned to allocate EUR 24,000 for scholarships for students starting their studies. Companies in the energy sector have also been generous with scholarships: Amber Grid, Litgrid and Tetas, which belong to the EPSO-G group of energy companies, have allocated more than EUR 100,000 for scholarships for engineering students, while Ignitis has contributed EUR 150,000 to support freshmen. The amount of the scholarship per student was EUR 200-300 per month.

However, encouraging students to choose energy studies requires not only financial incentives, but also the knowledge that can be provided by businesses working in this field. This is particularly relevant when designing study programmes so that the specialists trained not only acquire competences that meet the needs of the labour market, but also can apply them in practice.

“Close cooperation between developers and educational institutions is already very important today, as offshore wind projects in many countries in the region will reach the construction phase at a similar time, and the demand for specialists in the region will increase significantly. Moreover, all the Baltic Sea Region countries have set ambitious targets for the development of the offshore wind energy sector by 2030. In this context, last December we signed cooperation agreements with educational institutions in Western Lithuania,” comments Matas Anužis, Project Manager of the RWE Offshore Wind project in Lithuania.

According to him, the initial phase of the cooperation focuses on introducing educational institutions to the offshore wind energy sector and the need for the necessary specialists and competences. In this way, the institutions clarify and define their roles and objectives. It is hoped that this will also lead to the attraction of specialisations relevant to the energy sector.

LVEA member RWE Offshore Wind has signed Letters of Intent with Klaipėda University, the Lithuanian Maritime University, Klaipėda State College and Klaipėda Paul Lindenau Training Centre.

Another LVEA member, wind farm developer Inikti, is also visiting educational institutions.

“We work closely with educational institutions to educate pupils and students about the features of renewable energy and its importance for our future. Nowadays, with the rapid growth of the company’s activities, the demand for employees at Inikti has increased significantly. As there are currently not enough specialists on the market, we invite less experienced employees to join the team and be trained by our specialists,” says Aivaras Stumbras, the company’s CEO.

Want to train offshore wind energy specialists

For their part, educational institutions, responding to the growing demand for energy professionals, are interested in expanding the basket of available studies and offering students the opportunity to acquire professions that are already in demand.

“We are well aware that if we do not have our own specialists, they will be replaced by workers from third countries or the European Union. The labour market in the energy sector is already very mobile – Poles, Danes, Germans and others can take the place of Lithuanians. For specialists from these countries, which are already developing offshore wind farms, the job opportunities in Lithuania are also attractive – they will come here to work not because they are better, but because we will not have our own workers”, says Egidijus Skarbalius, Director of the Klaipėda Paul Lindenau Training Centre.

The training centre, which started training solar installers last year, is now actively interested in developing a training programme for offshore wind specialists.

“There are still a lot of unknowns about what this training programme might look like – what competences will be needed by the specialists, as some work on the commissioning of the plants, others on the operation and maintenance of the power plants. My understanding is that offshore energy specialists need to have not only energy and engineering competences, but also nautical competences – these people will, after all, be working in offshore facilities. And since we do not yet have such specialties in Lithuania, we would be creating training programmes practically from scratch,” says Mr Skarbalius.

According to him, discussions with the Ministry of Education and Science are already underway, and the content of the new study programme is awaiting the conclusion of the first tender for the first offshore wind farm in the Baltic Sea, which would be coordinated with the winner of the tender. However, the new training programme will also need to be licensed before it can start.

“The new training programme must also be approved by the sectoral committees, which are profiled. In order to consolidate the training of offshore wind specialists, there is just one committee missing to develop and approve the Marine Energy Standard. The question is therefore whether a new inter-sectoral committee will be created or whether a sectoral commission will be set up. This decision is not up to us, it is in the hands of the supervising authorities. Therefore, in order to start training offshore wind energy specialists as soon as possible, the necessary decisions should be taken now”, says the Director of the Klaipėda P. Lindenau Training Centre.

Highly qualified professionals are needed

There are fears that rushing into offshore installation by unqualified people or learning by doing will be the way to achieve energy independence as soon as possible. However, security is also an important issue in this respect, as the offshore wind farm is a strategic asset for Lithuania.

“If the wind farm in the Baltic Sea is to meet part of Lithuania’s energy needs, it will not only have to be continuously monitored to ensure that it does not fail and lead to power shortages, but also protected against diversion. In any case, only licensed, highly qualified specialists with comprehensive knowledge and the ability to ensure safety and quality of work should work in such a facility,” says Skarbalius.

LVEA’s E. Maladauskas agrees: the safety aspect is of paramount importance in the energy sector, and the professionals working there are not only subject to high demands, but are also paid solid salaries: “If we look at the average salaries of the companies that currently operate wind farms in Lithuania, we will often see salaries in the region of EUR 3,000.