Worldwide, even in today’s somewhat depressed economy, the demand for engineering talent is high, and it is well documented that in many sectors the workforce is aging. If companies and organisations are struggling to cope with filling engineering vacancies now, that problem is only going to be intensified if and when the global economy gets back to natural growth again.

The aftermath of Japan’s earthquake on its nuclear power stations has clearly shown that without power, little or nothing works, and the, ‘just in time’, delivery culture that companies and organisations have developed for prime efficiency can become, ‘way too late’ with disastrous economic consequences. In the absence of electricity, we will all revert to standards worse than 100 years ago very quickly. Power station training, especially to keep aging assets running, is vital if we want to bring new blood into the industry quickly.

“The demand for engineering talent is high, and it is well documented that in many sectors the workforce is aging.”

Projecting projects

Manchester, UK-based Siemens Transmission and Distribution (Siemens) revealed recently that it was creating around 340 jobs in its projects business, which the company says, designs and builds “transmission systems to connect countries’ power networks to
new energy sources, especially offshore wind.” Siemens says that the lion’s share of the new roles will be based at a new renewable energy engineering centre facility in Manchester that will house the Siemens Global Centre of Competence for High Voltage Grid Connections (HVDC) for the design and build of HVDC transmission systems for the UK and north-west Europe and particularly, renewables. The company says this is the first engineering centre of its kind to be built outside of Germany. “The UK’s Round 3 offshore wind farms will be sited much further out to sea than previous developments and so will need HVDC technology to overcome the power losses that occur when bringing electricity ashore over longer distances,” said John Willcock, director of major projects for Siemens, “Strengthening our UK expertise in HVDC is therefore central to Siemens’ strategy.”

With a worldwide shortage of engineering talent, Siemens says that it is planning on being self-sufficient in the UK for its engineering and project management needs of future systems, including HVDC plus converters. To facilitate this, the company said that it will be recruiting graduates and experienced personnel for high technology roles from electrical and power sectors and will also be looking to recruit engineers from other sectors, such as oil and gas, industrial automation and the armed forces. However, this latter strategy is also being pursued by many other companies and as the specialist labour pool declines, competition for talent may prove to be fierce.

That sentiment seems to be confirmed by a recent statement from recruitment specialists Hays’ oil and gas division in Scotland. Graeme Fyfe, director of Hays said, “Engineers can cross from another industry as skilled talent to highly paid positions overseas. Employers will need to compromise on non-essential aspects, take a much broader view of their skills requirements and also ensure they have a long-term strategy to address the issue with an investment in training and development,” said Fyfe.

“There is currently a serious shortage of people with the rights skills and experience to fill the posts that are being generated,” Fyfe said. “This applies across the board, but the pinch point is in mechanical and project management roles. Almost without exception, our clients are looking for skilled project engineers who tend to be at the heart of any manufacturing process but they simply aren’t available.” Time is of the essence and training from scratch is unlikely to fill the void, “There isn’t time to train (skilled and experienced staff) them or wait for the next influx of graduates,” said Fyfe. “So in the meantime employers should take a more strategic approach and consider if people from other industry sectors could fulfil these jobs, albeit with some additional learning.”

Simulation solutions

Ironically, at a time of high unemployment, a skill shortage seemingly across the board in specialist areas, recruitment activity and probably, pay and conditions too, are only set to go upwards. Using technology and especially simulations for training could save time and money.

For over four decades, Maryland, US-based GSE Systems has been providing real-time simulation and training solutions for the electric power, oil and gas and chemical process industries. Following the nuclear disaster at Fukushima in Japan, the very future of nuclear energy could be at stake as nations decide to end or freeze plans to build new stations. However, nuclear power stations cannot be shut down and mothballed overnight. Responding to the Fukushima scenario, GSE says that it has developed MAAP-HD, an engineering grade simulation product for “familiarisation and training on severe accident scenarios.”

“Operators and plant personnel can use simulators to be trained on the sequence of events during an incident.”

The company says that the product, “is a real-time code integrated with the plant’s full-scope training simulator, providing a high-fidelity platform.” Operators and plant personnel can be trained on the sequence of events during an incident and in-place severe accident management guidelines (SAMGS) can be tried and tested. Potential issues with the power plant’s design can be highlighted for modification and, especially important now for nuclear power plants, the plant’s safe operation can be demonstrated to regulators and to the general public.

For the growing renewables industry, London, UK-based Oilennium, which already provides training programmes for the oil and gas industry recently announced its entry into the wind energy sector with a new online wind turbine bolt tensioning simulator. The company developed the simulator with bolt tightening and machining specialist Hydratight – the simulator uses Hydratight’s multistud tensioners.

“The wind turbine bolt tensioning simulator is the first step in our plans to become a leading provider of training and eLearning services to the wind energy sector,” said Kevin Keable, managing director of Oilennium, in a statement. “We’re confident that once word gets out that this unique simulator offers wind farm operators the opportunity to train apprentices without investing thousands in travel and onsite training sessions, it will quickly become an industry standard.”

While most training solutions focus on the operations and maintenance of wind turbines and electrical, hydraulic and computer systems in particular, Oilennium’s new simulation gadget focuses more on the nuts and bolts so to speak. The real challenge according to Oilennium is training users in the proper bolting and tensioning techniques for wind turbine blades without having to train onsite.

This simulator makes it possible to learn all necessary procedures such as recognising when a bolt doesn’t have the correct load and teaching the correct procedures to achieve it. The device has gone through ‘rigorous in-house testing’ with a launch date planned soon.

Of course there is no substitute for on-site experience, especially in difficult and often harsh conditions. However, simulators can ensure that personnel have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the task well before they are confronted with the real deal out in the field.