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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)
Rows of young students standing in front of big screen with trainer standing to left of them Photo: EDF Renewables; DP Energy
The 2050 workforce? Some students in the first, 2022, intake of the Destination Renewables taster course in Wales sponsored by EDF Renewables and DP Energy

Photo: EDF Renewables; DP Energy

Skills take the longest to develop but are the most valuable in the whole supply chain, according to Matthew Knight, Head of Market and Government Affairs at Siemens, who spoke at the All-Energy conference and exhibition in Glasgow 15–16 May. Work to prepare for 2050, the UK’s net zero target, must start now, as the workers who will be in their professional prime by then are still at school. Many recent reports analyse skills needs (with some specifically focused on developing Scotland’s growing offshore wind sector). New educational initiatives are starting up nationwide, reports New Energy World Senior Editor Will Dalrymple.

In June, one of four policy priorities recommended to the next Parliament by the National Engineering Policy Centre, of which the Energy Institute is a member, is to deliver a national engineering and technology workforce strategy to ‘equip the UK with the skilled workforce needed to meet the challenges of sustainability and technological advancement by delivering a long-term holistic plan encompassing all education stages, reskilling and upskilling’. While that report covers industry generally, the picture is similar in renewables.

 

The Scottish onshore wind workforce needs to quadruple to meet 2030 ambition, from 6,900 people to 20,500, according to an April 2024 Optimat/ITP Energised study commissioned by Climate Exchange. Although most of these roles are in construction and installation, operations and maintenance roles need to grow two and a half times by 2030. Significant shortages exist in technical roles, particularly high-voltage engineers and wind turbine technicians.

 

These figures broadly agree with a September 2023 report from Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University (RGU) study about offshore skills. It states that the workforce is expected to increase by 50% to 225,000, to meet UK energy security strategy targets. Barriers to growth include competing demand from skills from other industries, as well as negative perceptions of fossil fuels and climate concerns.

 

The UK government’s spring 2023 Powering Up Britain energy security plan would support up to 480,000 new jobs by 2030. National Grid’s Building Net Zero report (from 2020) estimates 400,000 new entrants into the industry will be needed by 2050.

 

Energy transition knowledge, electrical and mechanical engineering, construction, manufacturing and project management are the key energy transition skills needed by Scotland in the period to 2030, according to a February 2024 report from The National Energy Skills Accelerator (NESA), a collaboration of RGU, the University of Aberdeen and North East Scotland College. The transfer of competence from an oil and gas sector that is winding up operations is a key concern in a second RGU report, Delivering our energy future, which analysed over 6,560 pathways for the UK offshore energy industry until 2030.

 

There are currently thousands of skilled workers in the UK oil and gas sector and this is set to decline as production falls in the decades ahead, reports OEUK; while the growing UK offshore wind industry already employs 32,000 people and that number is expected to rise to over 100,000 by 2030, according to analysis from RenewableUK. Fortunately, research commissioned by OEUK showed that 90% of oil and gas industry workers have skills which can be transferred to new offshore jobs in renewable energy.


While the growing UK offshore wind industry already employs 32,000 people, that number is expected to rise to over 100,000 by 2030 – RenewableUK

 

To facilitate this, a skills passport scheme has been proposed by OEUK, RenewableUK, OPITO, Global Wind Organisation (GWO) and representatives from oil and gas and offshore wind energy sector employers, alongside government, trade union, and trade and skills bodies. Career pathway information for more than 30 oil and gas roles including ‘maintenance technician’ has been created. A final version is expected to be launched later in the year.

 

 

Actions for central government

In its May 2023 paper about supply chain capacity, National Grid offered a suggestion to government about how to develop skills in the sector. It states: ‘In order to identify the most effective interventions in pursuit of creating green jobs, the joint-ministerial Green Jobs Delivery Group should be tasked with producing an annual report into the state of the net zero energy workforce, which should include clear and transparent data on UK demand for and supply of energy roles, as well as skills gaps.’

 

At the All-Energy conference and exhibition in May 2024, Jude Knight, head of low-carbon skills at Cogent, pointed out that although the Green Jobs Delivery Group was set up in 2022, as of mid-May it had yet to publish an anticipated green jobs plan. (However, the Group’s website states that a Net Zero and Nature Workforce Action Plan is due to be published in 2024.)

 

Course provision blooms   
Courses in renewable energy are springing up all over the UK to help train the next generation of workers, and many have received government funding to offer learners financial support. For example, across Scotland, NESA has fully funded more than 700 places on 37 energy-related courses, of which 15 were new, in the 2023–2024 academic year. North East Scotland College has published a list of energy transition-related courses. In April, NESA launched a pilot energy career pathways tool to communicate energy jobs and opportunities. Relevant job profiles have also been published on Offshore Wind Scotland, My World Of Work and the UK’s National Careers Service.

 

For example, recently launched in Scotland was a two-year wind turbine technician course, the first cohort of which is due to complete this month. The full-time engineering course is taught at North East Scotland College’s Aberdeen Altens campus. The College says the course ‘will create a pipeline of young talent with the knowledge and technical skills required for onshore and offshore roles’.

 

Also in Aberdeen, construction has begun of a new £5mn energy transition skills hub to be operated by NESCol (but whose operation is underwritten by £1.8mn from Shell), which aims to ‘equip the workforce of the future with the skills that industry needs to deliver low-carbon energy’. Once fully operational for the start of the 2025/2026 term in autumn 2025, the facility aims to put 1,000 people into energy transition jobs in the next five years, and 15,000 over the next decade. Built on the site of a disused dairy, the new building will quadruple current capacity. New teaching spaces include a 32-booth welding and fabrication workshop, a manufacturing workshop, a design suite and classroom space. Alongside, an outreach programme based around a truck-mounted classroom will travel to local secondary schools to raise awareness and interest.

 

Investing in it is ETZ, an industrial renewal organisation in Aberdeen, which has received £54mn of funding from the UK and Scottish governments to help the former oil and gas company town transition a low-carbon future. In a disused industrial estate, ETZ is also developing a hydrogen campus, wind energy campus, floating offshore wind testing facility and innovation campus.

 

CGI rendering of outside of one-story building

Artist’s impression of the NESCol energy transition skills hub in Aberdeen, to be finished in time for the start of the 2025/2026 academic year 
Photo: NESCol

 

Across the UK   
Further south in England, National Grid’s community programme supports young people aged 16–25 with 12 weeks of career mentoring, two weeks’ work experience, access to apprenticeships and internships at National Grid, work readiness training, networking and industry taster sessions. Since it launched in 2020, it has supported over 4,200 people.

 

In Wales, the first intake of learners in a new course, Destination Renewables, will be winding up their two-year qualification. With study streams on wave, tidal, onshore wind, solar and offshore wind technologies, the Pembroke College course aims to inspire 16–18-year-olds to consider future careers in renewables with interactive workshops, hands-on activities, presentations, lectures, site visits and classroom learning. The second year involves an extended project qualification (EPQ), whose successful completion is in addition to a Level 3 qualification in engineering, business and construction. Half of the original cohort of 40 are completing the EPQ. A second cohort of 16 began their studies in September 2023.

 

The course is supported by EDF Renewables UK and DP Energy, partners behind the proposed Gwynt Glas floating offshore wind farm project in the Celtic Sea. Mark Hazelton, Gwynt Glas Project Director, says: ‘We want to ensure that young people in Wales are aware of the opportunities and are well placed to take advantage of the benefits from future projects like the potential Gwynt Glas floating offshore wind farm that could be on their doorstep.’

 

Not all of the training required need come at the beginning of a worker’s career. Speaking at All-Energy, Jude Knight, head of low-carbon skills at Cogent, said skills boot camps, modular, top-up training to bring prior apprenticeship training up to date, is popular with industry. Not only do such courses exist, but they are posted in their own category on the Department for Education’s National Careers Service website, which lists courses by sector and region. An unsystematic search of ‘engineering and manufacturing’ skills bootcamps included, for example, 80-hour conversion courses on heat pump servicing for existing gas engineers in Hull, four-week courses on renewable energies in Durham and a six-week course on electric vehicle servicing in Devon. Many of the courses are offered at low or no cost, as they are subsidised by local authority funding, which means that intake is limited to learners in a particular region.

 

Initiatives across the country seem to reflect the desire at all levels to train up a workforce ready to move the UK toward net zero. But the UK is no longer the only game in town. As Siemens’ Matthew Knight pointed out, there is increasing demand across Europe and beyond for products and services around renewables and grid infrastructure. Whether the UK can build – and retain – all of the workers it needs to realise its objectives remains to be seen.

 

 

Professional training from the Energy Institute

The Energy Institute offers online, face-to-face and hybrid training on many topics in the energy industry.

 

Online courses range from introductory topics such as the five-hour Introduction to Net Zero course and the 10-hour Offshore Wind Learning courses up to the 300-hour, four-section Human Performance Pathway for the Energy Sector. Some online courses are also offered free of charge, including vital online training on managing fatigue.

 

Numerous other training courses are offered at the EI via the EI Academy, and its recently launched Executive Leadership in Energy Programme. The EI also runs a mentoring platform at EI Connect.