Despite warnings that the UK risks a US-style ‘jobless recovery’, one bright spot on the horizon is the wind energy sector, which has seen a 91% leap in employment over the last three years.
A report commissioned by industry association RenewableUK and EU Skills, the Sector Skills Council for the power sector, revealed that the number of full-time positions at wind energy companies had almost doubled from 4,800 full-time equivalent staff in 2007/8 to 9,200 during 2009/10.
In contrast, overall employment in the UK fell by 3.4% over the same period. The wind energy sector now employs more personnel than the coal industry, which has a workforce of only 6,081.
Maria McCaffery, chief executive of RenewableUK, said: “Two conclusions from the results of this remarkable study are immediately obvious – this sector has withstood the negative GDP growth of the UK recession and bucked the overall employment trend in a spectacular way by a near doubling of the workforce.”
The increase in jobs had also largely mirrored the increase in the contribution of renewable energy, which mainly comprised wind power, to the national grid, she added.
“This study presents a compelling case for increasing our base of installed renewable energy devices. There is a clear link between sector activity and UK employment gains,” McCaffery said. “Creating a policy framework that ensures our wind, wave and tidal resources are fully utilised will create jobs and stimulate economic activity at a time when we need it most.”
The Carbon Trust estimates that the offshore wind sector alone could create up to 70,000 jobs by 2020.
The RenewableUK study, which was based on a survey of 253 employers undertaken by Warwick University’s Institute for Employment Research and Cambridge Econometrics, indicated that, of the 10,800 personnel working directly in both the wind and marine energy sectors, 56% were currently employed by large-scale onshore wind farm operators.
A further 29% worked at offshore wind plants, while around 7.5% had jobs with small-scale wind and wave and tidal energy companies respectively.
The news came as Mike Dicks, chief economist at Barclays Wealth warned that the UK faced the prospect of a jobless recovery. In the Institute of Fiscal Studies ‘Green Budget’ report, he wrote that: “A sharp labour market correction, with firms shedding workers US-style at the same time that the public sector workforce is trimmed, cannot be ruled out.”
He also told the Daily Telegraph that he did not agree with the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast that unemployment would peak at 8% this year, before dropping to its long-term average.
Instead Dicks said: “The structural level of unemployment in the UK has gone up a bit. It could easily be as high as 8%” as companies learned to cope with fewer staff and trend growth in the economy fell.
Before the financial crisis, the Treasury’s estimated UK trend growth was 2.75%. But Dicks said it was more likely to settle at 1.75% in future as the froth had come off the economy and capital had been “destroyed”.