A new, globally certified training center in Taichung is helping Taiwan develop specialized personnel and talent for its offshore wind industry.
Taiwan’s shortage of qualified talent to work in the offshore wind business is among its chief challenges in developing the sector. Unlike many nations that have developed offshore wind, Taiwan has almost no marine industry such as offshore oil and gas from which to draw workers. Very few Taiwanese have the qualifications or experience to directly enter the industry.
Consequently, offshore wind relies almost entirely on foreign personnel, mostly from Europe. These workers come at a premium, reportedly earning between US$700 and $1,200 per day. Adding to the problem, COVID-19’s impact on global travel has disrupted the supply of those workers, leading to construction delays. A report by the Global Wind Energy Council last April forecasts demand for 77,000 offshore wind workers by 2024 in the Asia-Pacific region, including 14,000 needed in Taiwan.
CWind, an offshore wind manpower and vessels provider from the UK, recognized early on that it couldn’t conduct its business without a supply of qualified workers.
“We either needed to bring them back to the UK to train them or we could bite the bullet and do something here that allows us to keep our workforce trained,” says Tom Manning, deputy general manager of its local subsidiary, CWind Taiwan. It therefore decided to open a training center to meet its own personnel needs.
When the government learned of CWind’s plans, it saw an opportunity to create a resource that could serve the entire industry. Soon a consortium led by CWind developed around the training center. Other participants are the Taiwan International Ports Corp. (TIPC), Taiwan Power Company (Taipower), China Steel Corp. (CSC), CSBC Corp., Taiwan (the former China Ship Building Corp.), and Swancor Renewables.
The result is the Taiwan International Windpower Training Center (TIWTC), located in Taichung near the offshore wind development piers. Certified by the Global Wind Organization (GWO), TIWTC is a 6,000-square-meter facility complete with a 21-meter-tall WAH (working at heights) training tower – the tallest in Asia – as well as an indoor pool with depths ranging from three to six meters and a four-meter-high diving platform. There are also facilities for tool use and firefighting training.
“We want to create the most realistic offshore wind experience for our trainees so we can provide the industry with the best workers,” says Michael Li, operational manager of the facility.
TIWTC offers a six-day Basic Safety Training course, which includes first aid, sea survival, safe and efficient tool use, and WAH and fire-awareness training, providing students with the basic level of qualification for offshore work. During the course, trainees need to jump off the diving platform, work as a team to right a flipped-over life raft, use a fire extinguisher, perform CPR, and use a defibrillator. TIWTC also offers a four-day technical training course.
Around 30% of the trainees are foreign offshore workers who need to update their certifications, which last two years. Classes are offered in both English and Chinese by a team of trainers that includes a climbing instructor, an ex-firefighter, and an ex-military officer. The center will soon offer classes in Japanese as well.
Since its opening last year, TIWTC has graduated over 3,000 trainees, almost all of whom have entered the offshore wind industry, and it has plans to offer more advanced training classes.
While most of the trainees are entry level technicians, several are white-collar workers whose jobs might require them to visit a turbine site, particularly insurance company employees and marine mammal observers. As with most construction industries, the trainees are mostly male, with only around 15% women.
Finding workers interested in entering the offshore wind industry remains a challenge, as Taiwanese have been slow to recognize the opportunities presented by the industry. Manning says that the training center serves as a recruitment tool, and that interested people are invited to visit the facility and go through a day or two of training to see if they like it. Word is apparently getting out. “We haven’t had a shortage of Taiwanese applicants,” he reports.
The Ministry of Labor recently liberalized labor laws for the offshore wind industry that will permit longer shifts, allowing not only greater efficiencies for the industry but also more opportunities for overtime pay. An entry-level wind technician currently makes only NT$60,000 per month, but with experience and overtime, the income could rise to NT$100,000 or more.
Although offshore wind will probably be reliant on foreign workers for the near future, “at some point the Taiwanese are going to need to stand on their own feet with this industry, and so they need to develop the local workforce,” says Manning. “We need to create jobs here for Taiwanese.”