Broken wind turbine? Call the British armed forces

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 16, 2012 8:48 AM
Broken wind turbine? Call the British armed forces

By Drazen Jorgic

LONDON (Reuters) - Expanding renewable energy businesses short on engineers could set their sights on ex-servicemen whose skills are seen as surplus to requirements in Britain's austerity drive.

The wind power sector is being held back by a shortage of skilled personnel and one company is already hiring army, navy and air force engineers forced on to civvy street after drastic cuts across the armed forces.

David Surplus, managing director of wind operating business B9 Energy, said former servicemen are armed with transferable skills which can solve the industry's engineer problem.

"The ex-helicopter engineers, for example, are multi-disciplined technicians, which means mechanical, electrical control, electronic engineering and a bit of structural."

Britain's Ministry of Defense is in the front line for billions of pounds of cuts as the government gets to grips with the country's huge budget deficit, including thousands of redundancies, bases closed and fewer planes, warships and tanks likely to need servicing.

The Northern Ireland-based company, which services 35 wind farms across the UK and Ireland, has recruited around 10 former air force servicemen over the past decade, with a further 10 engineers hired from the army and navy combined.

"They've got good communication skills, their written word is very good, they're disciplined and willing to stay until the job is finished, so it's an easy job for us to convert those guys into the wind industry."

The Ministry of Defense's resettlement office has sought to build ties with growing industries that are struggling to attract enough skilled technicians.

One such sector is subsea engineering, largely for the oil and gas industry, where recent recruiting drives have focused on Scotland, which has a high concentration of ex-military personnel.

"You cannot fast-track experience and transferring skilled professionals from the military into our workforce is one way of addressing the short-term problem," said Neil Gordon, chief executive of industry body Subsea UK.


B9 Energy stumbled upon the idea of hiring former armed forces engineers after recruiting two technicians in the United States who previously worked for the U.S. Air Force.

"We had one man who was a technician on the old Minuteman II ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles), which were designed to blow up Russian cities in case of war," Surplus said.

"If you imagine a rocket in a silo underneath the ground and a technician working on it, they are working on heights in the same way that they have to work on a wind turbine, so the principles are the same."

Surplus said B9 Energy's recent ex-armed forces recruits include engineers who repaired Royal Navy's search and rescue helicopters in Culdrose, Southwest of England, where the government plans to partially privatize the service.

"We had a couple more in Scotland, from Leuchars and Lossiemouth, and one of those guys (serviced) Nimrods and Tornado aircraft," he said.

"Most of the army and forces guys have got all of the training that we are looking for - except for a few bits and pieces. They are nearly there."

(Reporting By Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)