Call for energy industry to engage earlier with future workforce

Urgent action is needed across the growing energy industry to work with younger students to secure the skilled and diverse future workforce it needs.

Offshore wind, oil and gas and nuclear leaders are making a united call to work together to build a multi-skilled mobile workforce that could flow between the different sectors.

Collaboration is vital to nurture a workforce skilled and large enough for the security of the UK’s energy supply for decades ahead, they say.

Multi-disciplined workers with skills relevant across an energy industry in transition, who understand different types of working environment to serve the energy mix and take advantage of international opportunities, are needed.

A call to work together was made from the stage of the biggest energy conference in the East of England, SNS2019, in Norwich organised by the East of England Energy Group (EEEGR).

In offshore wind alone, the industry needs to treble its jobs total in the next decade.

The rejuvenating oil and gas industry needs 25,000 new people by 2025 according to OPITO’s Skills Landscape 2019-2025 report. Of those, 4,500 will work in roles that do not yet exist – jobs in big data analytics, machine learning, augmented reality, virtual reality, robotics and other technologies emerging in the fourth industrial revolution.

More than 90% of people working in oil and gas in 2025 will be in the supply chain, delegates were told.

Recent energy engineering masters graduate Esmee Thornton spoke passionately about the need for the industry to reach people younger than 16 years of age.

“It is still really hard to encourage women into energy industry-based careers,” said Esmee, who was sponsored by ScottishPower Renewables in her MSc at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

“I would have really liked information and related careers activities when I was a younger student to show the opportunities available. More needs to be done by the industry to engage with younger students, especially girls.”

Susan Falch-Lovesey, local liaison officer for Vattenfall for Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas, said: “We do have a problem with diversity in our workforce – it is vital that we find a solution.”

Hugh McNeal, CEO of membership organisation RenewableUK, said offshore wind would become the backbone of the power system, but it needed to appeal to “the widest pool of talent.”

The industry would bring a “massive job growth from where we are now” with thousands of new jobs “for coastal communities”, breathing new life into ports at Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Harwich, he said.

“This means we have to make offshore wind as attractive as possible for our graduates and young people and people moving out of industries that are in decline.”

Mr McNeal, who leads the offshore wind Investment in Talent Group, said: “Many of the jobs will be delivered locally in towns like Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. It is in these places, throughout this transformative work, that our industry is going to create new opportunities for the young and really leave its mark.”

Deirdre Michie, CEO of Oil & Gas UK, said: “It’s vital we understand existing and future skills profiles and proactively develop the talent required. This is about nurturing a diverse and inclusive workforce whose skills are transferable between energy sectors.

“Such a combination will ensure that the UK’s offshore oil and gas industry doesn’t stand still, but moves at pace, innovating and changing, and working with others across different sectors -an ambition encapsulated in Our Vision, Our Future campaign.”

Chris Claydon, Chief Executive of the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) called for industry leaders to work collaboratively to address the skills challenge and shape the mobile and flexible workforce needed.

“We are in a period of increasing demand on the labour force while new technologies are changing the skills required across engineering construction.

“With 33,000 extra engineers needed within the next decade, industry must invest in new entrants and upskilling the existing workforce.”

Students from the University of East Anglia (UEA), the Energy Skills Foundation Programme (ESFP), ECITB’s Introduction to Engineering Construction (ITEC) and more than 50 students aged between 16 and 19 from colleges across the region, including East Coast College, West Suffolk College, Wymondham College and East Norfolk Sixth Form College, took advantage of networking opportunities at SNS2019. They met with companies involved in OPITO’s Energise Your Future programme.

Survival technology firm Survitec put students into the shoes of offshore workers by trying on survival suits and life jackets and Next Geosolutions hosted a nautical map treasure hunt activity and an interactive quiz. Leading worldwide wind energy producer ScottishPower Renewables (part of the major Iberdrola Group), 3sun Group, Gardline, Gee-Force Hydraulics and OPITO also hosted young people at their stands.

Rachel Elliott, policy manager at OPITO, the global, not-for-profit, skills body for the energy industry, said: “Companies will be increasingly looking for multi-skilled workers who can work across the energy sector and also take advantage of international opportunities. This is why initiatives such as OPITO’s Energise Your Future has distinct advantages.

“Allowing students to engage directly with businesses across the sector plays an important role in providing the next generation with the opportunity to find out for themselves about the variety of exciting roles available.

“There are numerous success stories of students having attended Energise events who are now working within the industry.”