The story often told, in the run-up to this general election, about Scotland's renewables is that the jobs have not arrived. Oil and gas jobs are in freefall and the green employment tsunami has not yet hit. 

It's there in the backdrop of the debate over new oil and gas licenses, with the SNP backing an 'in between stance', and the Labour party sticking with its no new licenses pledge.

But speak to people within the renewables sector and the story they tell is one not of lack of jobs, but of workers to fill them.

Morag Watson, director of policy at Scottish Renewables, said: “We are desperately short of planners. You can’t get welders for love or money. Our members are saying, we are struggling, to find enough people, and to find people with the qualifications that we need.

“We also have a real problem with our members trying to build projects and because there are so few construction companies around they can pick and choose the projects that they want. Sometimes you literally cannot get a construction company.”

How many jobs Scotland stands to gain or lose in the transition from oil and gas to renewables, as we play our part in mitigating climate change, has been a contentious issue in this general election campaign.

Figures abound on jobs. “100,000 jobs” could be lost from oil and gas under Labour’s energy strategy, according to SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn (a figure that was revealed to apply to the whole of the UK than Scotland), who declared that it would “shaft Scottish workers” and “put Scottish workers on the scrap heap just like Margaret Thatcher did”.

“69,000 jobs” could be created in Scotland, Labour has promised, under a green prosperity plan which includes the creation of state-owned power company Great British Energy. These jobs include 53,000 in clean power, carbon capture, hydrogen, onshore and offshore wind, as well as 16,000 jobs through the Warm Homes Plan, such as construction workers, joiners and plumbers.

Offshore Energies UK, meanwhile, has said that Labour’s oil and gas  plans, which include removal of investment allowances for oil and gas, could see up to 42,000 jobs lost, with a best-case scenario, according to investment bank Stifel, of 20,000 jobs gone.

Keir Starmer, Ed Miliband and Anas Sarwar at the Port of GreenockKeir Starmer, Ed Miliband and Anas Sarwar at the Port of Greenock (Image: PA)In the backdrop of this is the question of how many jobs have already been created. What's clear is that past promises, like Alex Salmond’s 2010 pledge of 130,000 jobs by 2020, have not been delivered. But how far short is the renewables revolution falling?

Recently, the Herald reported that over the past decade there had been a 40% drop in oil jobs, and, in that time, according to Office of National Statistics figures green jobs have risen by only 2,500, from 23,200 in 2014 to 25,700 in 2022.

That’s a very different picture from that painted by a report by Fraser of Allander last year, commissioned by Scottish Renewables because of “lack of reliable statistics, which said that jobs in Scotland's renewables sector grew by more than 50% in 2021, and that the industry supported 42,000 jobs compared with 27,000 the previous year.

This, it attributed, to “a substantial surge in the ONS figures for Offshore wind turnover in the year 2021”, and associated growth in the construction sector. But the report acknowledged a high margin of error, and the reliability of its figures has been widely questioned. 

So, which is it? Companies and industry leaders within clean energy say that right now growth in green jobs is what they are seeing, with some citing their own recent and planned recruitment – as well as a struggle to fill positions and find people with the right skills.

These jobs range from those working in renewable projects to workers involved in expanding the grid, fitting heat pumps and creating the infrastructure needed for a clean energy system. Scottish Power, for instance, says it has recruited almost 2,000 people in the last two years - including some who have worked in the oil and gas sector for decades.

Keith Anderson, ScottishPower CEO, said: “Across the energy sector we’re facing a huge skills shortage and we need a green army of people to deliver a clean energy future – with roles for everyone from trainees and apprentices to experienced engineers and professionals."

SSEN Transmission, meanwhile, has seen its headcount quadruple in the last five years, from around 400 employees in 2019 to over 1,700 in 2024. In the full-year 2023/24 the company recruited 500 new employees and anticipates bringing on a similar figure over the next year. Thirty of these new employees, last year, were graduates, with 50 more this year.

Those in the renewables industry expressed concern, not over lack of jobs, but of workers to fill them. George Baxter, director of development at GreenPower International, said: “Everybody is saying it’s hard to get people. In our own company, we’ve been trying to get hold of project managers for about a year. We decided in the end that instead we’ll bring on apprentices and train them on the job. We’re quite a small company but we’ve got about a dozen jobs that we need to fill fairly quickly and the company is only 20 people.”

(Image: Archive)

“I often hear in industry discussions, Good luck getting a civils contractor, within the next two years they’re all booked out."

Scottish Renewables recently contributed to a report by ClimateXChange, which looked at how many jobs will be needed for the onshore wind industry alone, out to 2030. The report found that the sector “must quadruple its workforce in the next three years if it is to keep pace with its 2030 net-zero targets”. In terms of jobs, it said, that was an increase from around 6,900 in 2024 to around 20,500 in 2027.

What’s needed, it said, is for “more people to join the sector and for individuals from other sectors to be reskilled/ upskilled”. 90% of these roles will be in the construction and installation of wind farms, and a relatively small fraction are in operation and maintenance.

Other parts of the clean energy sector, said Morag Watson, director of policy at Scottish Renewables, will also be expanding. “Speaking with our grid colleagues they estimate they need 9,000 additional people by 2030, probably by about 2027 depending on timelines.”

Meanwhile offshore is set to bring another wave of jobs. “We are looking,” she said, “at 27 GW of offshore wind. The developments are slightly further back in the pipeline than onshore, but they will all be needing thousands of jobs as well.”

Haidee Barclay, wind turbine technician at OrstedHaidee Barclay, wind turbine technician at Orsted (Image: Ørsted)

There will also, she said, be jobs in ports and harbours. “Inverness and Port of Cromarty are estimating that there are going to be 25,000 additional jobs. And Forth ports are estimating 50,000 additional jobs across the UK from their activities.”

One of the key areas of shortage, however, is in planners. “Without planning officers, the developments have no route to market. In Scotland alone we need 500-600 additional planners. Our planning system is woefully under capacity – and there are all these projects coming forward.”

“But there is also," she said, "a shortage of turbine technicians, high voltage engineers and welders. I heard anecdotally of a company that was offering £75,000 a year for a welder in the Highlands and they could not get a welder.

She added: "All the skills exist in Scotland. but we just don’t have enough people who have them. There are training programmes that people can do to become a turbine technician but again we’re just not getting enough people through those courses. We are also looking closely at  mid-career professionals from other sectors who have very transferrable skills. How do we design a low friction pathway for them to transition from where they are into the renewables industry.”

Scottish Renewables is working with the supply chain to create a single portal where all of the contracts that the industry is placing would be advertised. “That gives supply chain visibility of what’s out there.”

The Renewables sector, Watson he said, “casts covetous eyes over the offshore industry”. “There are a lot of engineers and technical people in the offshore industry who would be very welcome in renewables.”

Renewables jobs, are fairly well paid, compared to the average UK salary of around £35,000  – with, for instance, wind turbine technicians on a starting salary of £25,000 reaching £47,000 with experience - but not as well paid as those in oil and gas.


That pay difference, said Watson, is one reason why oil and gas workers are not shifting to fill some of these vacant roles. “What we are seeing at the moment is that if you have a secure job in oil and gas, you probably wouldn’t be tempted to move over to renewables.”

Whatever way it’s looked at, how this transition happens will impact on Scotland’s workforce and economy. OEUK has estimated that close to “1 in 30 of the working population in Scotland and 1 in 5 in the North-East of Scotland are employed in or support the offshore energy industry”. Its  Delivering Our Energy Future report predicts that oil and gas workforce will likely decline “from around 120,000 in 2023 to between 60,000 (scenario 3) and 90,000 (scenario 1) by 2030”.

But different sectors and individuals have different perspectives on what a just transition means. OEUK's Delivering Our Energy Future report, for instance, argued that a just transition is one which “sustains UK Offshore Energy industry jobs to 2023 levels or better”.

George Baxter takes a different view. He said: “I don’t think the just transition is really about getting all the people in the oil and gas industry and transferring them over to renewables. That’s just part of the picture. The concept is much more about the opportunity to create a huge number of new opportunities and we should be looking to create those jobs for young people today. Get the training and skills right and get them excited about working in the industry."