CTO & CEO, Tom Mason talks to Energy Management about the skills gap crisis the energy sector faces and what we can do now to secure the future of the industry.
The UK might have set the precedent for the ambitious target of Net Zero by 2050 but without contributing to skilled workforces behind the sectors needed to achieve this, the UK will fall far short on the promises made to end our contribution to global warming. With the rest of the world also needing skilled workers to reach their own climate targets, it is important the energy industry as a whole starts to nurture and encourage the talent the UK already has.As the government announces more and more policies associated with curbing climate change and building a green economy, alongside announcements of job creation, what can we do now to ensure the correctly skilled people are available to fill these all-important roles?
Positioning STEM as a suitable career choice to the younger generations
It is so important that we encourage younger generations to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), after all they are the future. One of the biggest issues we face is the misconceptions that surround STEM subjects. In Engineering UK’s 2020 report it found 62.2% of young people aged 16 to 17 in the UK feel that subjects like science or maths are more difficult than others. There is also a lack of understanding around just what sort of career paths you might have access to if you pursue STEM subjects in your education.
In 2019, only 23.5% of 11 to 19 year olds had heard about engineering careers from careers advisors. STEM professionals are working on the cutting edge and solving real life challenges everyday. There is no bigger challenge than the climate crisis but to encourage young people to play their parts in tackling it, we need to show them just how vital (and exciting) these roles are. This comes down to the government, businesses within the energy sector, and the education system to create a buzz around these subjects and present attractive opportunities that young people will want to get involved with at every age. It’s encouraging to see there has been a growing voice of young people calling on the government to work harder on solving the climate crisis and we should use this momentum to show how they can directly be involved in affecting change by working in these sectors.
As businesses working within the sector seeking to innovate change, we should work with the education system to build enthusiasm around the skills that will be required for a career in STEM as ultimately, we will be the ones that will benefit from a well-stocked talent pool. Encouraging work placements and partnerships between business and educational institutions will open an important dialogue directly between the job market and the young people about to join the workforce.
Understanding where skills are transferable and widening the net
Overlooking the workforce we already have would be a massive mistake at this really important moment in time. The energy sector is vast and has a huge pool of workers that may not even realise they already hold all the skills necessary to work closely with clean energy technologies. The UK Offshore Energy Workforce Transferability Review by Robert Gordon University highlights over 90% of the UK’s oil and gas workforce have medium to high skills transferability and are well positioned to work in adjacent energy sectors.
The oil and gas sector is another industry which has a huge pool of skilled engineers that will be well placed to fill the skills gap as we start to develop the UK’s use of hydrogen as an energy vector in meeting net zero targets. Using and deploying hydrogen is not vastly different from fossil fuels. This means the infrastructure will still play a role so the transition for engineers will be important as they are already best placed to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the system and just how the energy transition must be rolled out.
Making reskilling and upskilling a priority
As a relatively young industry, one of the issues that needs to be addressed is the speed in which the renewables sector will change. It is hard to predict what skills will be needed in a decade’s time with technology developing all the time but investment by companies in their workforce now will stand them in good stead to weather the storm of an ever changing landscape.
It is important that we identify where reskilling and upskilling is needed and the opportunities for cross-industry redeployment. This is not only beneficial for the current energy workforce who might be concerned about whether their role will still be relevant as we move away from fossil fuels but cost of recruitment and initial training is much higher than keeping and upskilling existing talent. It is also a much faster way to bridge the skills gap in a tight labour market.
Collaboration on a global stage
The climate crisis is a global challenge and although we cannot rely on the rest of the world to plug the skills shortage in the UK, collaboration on a global scale is vital. As we move to develop new technologies and work with energy in a different way, there are already a number of partnerships across local, regional and global levels that have been developed to share knowledge and further the climate agenda.
In the last year we have seen Siemens Energy form a partnership with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) which under the agreement ‘will cooperate, facilitate, and strengthen collaboration in areas to advance the global energy transition based on renewable energy.’In the same breath, Siemens has also signed a MoU with Welsh hydrogen car firm Riversimple to focus on regional skills development, sustainability and preparation for volume production of their vehicles.
With new projects breaking new ground all the time in the energy sector, they can provide a great blueprint for other countries to follow suit. Along with this it also allows for hubs of new thinking to develop, sharing vital knowledge that will allow us to transition to a clean energy future.
The energy industry has already made huge leaps towards reinventing itself but it must go further to make sure it is truly sustainable – not only for its workforce but as a sector too as we get closer to Net Zero targets. Businesses have a responsibility to nurture young talent and to provide the opportunities to their current workforce to develop their knowledge of working with cutting edge technologies that ultimately will be the makeup of the clean energy transition. The time and investment we all make now will pay dividends in our green future.
You can read the article on Energy Management HERE