Skills strategy needed, says Energy Barometer 2021

Energy professionals have called for government and industry to produce a national skills strategy that underpins the development of low-carbon energy and supply chains, in a way that does not leave today’s skilled workers and their communities stranded.

Their views, hopes and fears were revealed as part of Energy Barometer 2021: the net zero skills issue, based on responses from more than 400 UK professionals representing the span from renewables to oil and gas to energy efficiency.

Acknowledging progress in UK energy policy over the past year, but that further bold action is needed to get the country on track for its 2030 and 2050 emission reduction goals, respondents to the survey highlight that action to bring on the necessary workforce is pressing.

Energy Institute President Steve Holliday said:

“A laser focus on policies and initiatives to drive the development of low-carbon technologies is vital, but it must not eclipse the equally important need to support and develop the net zero workforce.

“We often hear about the long lead times involved in building a new power plant. But the lead times required to bring on a heat pump installer or wind turbine engineer – from inspiring interest in STEM in schools through the necessary apprenticeships and university degrees and into the workforce – are as long if not longer.

“The Barometer is clear that decarbonisation won’t happen at the necessary speed and scale without the assembly of a mass skilled workforce, and so we are encouraged by signals from ministers that this will be an integral part of the UK’s net zero strategy.”

Research by National Grid estimates that 400,000 diverse new recruits into energy will be needed for the UK to reach net zero by 2050, more than half of which will be in new roles.

Reflecting the need for mobility within, and new recruitment into, an industry in a state of major change, Energy Barometer 2021 finds:

  • A majority call for more action by government and industry to build the skilled workforce of the future, and point to the need for the ‘push’ of a national net zero skills strategy underpinned by the ‘pull’ of a stable energy policy to send consistent, long term signals to drive workforce capacity.
  • A majority (57%) of existing professionals are planning to undertake training in the next year as a result of net zero, but almost half (49%) have concerns about cost, time and availability of courses standing in the way of their skills development.
  • Just over half are considering a move to a different field of energy – for 52% a move has either happened, or they are considering moving in the next decade. Low-carbon fields including energy and carbon management, wind power, hydrogen and CCUS are singled out as preferred destinations.
  • A majority point to investment in skills in the existing workforce as necessary to overcome the strong sense that communities are disconnected from net zero. There is support (46%) for investing in decarbonising carbon intensive industries so they can continue to operate in the UK, and a majority (57%) for support specifically for skills and retraining to avoid oil and gas professionals being left stranded.
  • Climate change is a motivating factor for new entrants to the industry, ranking second after job security and career progression. Engineering and technical skills still remain the most sought-after by employers, followed by whole system thinking, reflecting the increasingly integrated nature of the energy system.
  • Much more needs to be done to break down barriers to diversity and inclusion in the industry. While there is barely any support (3%) for gender quotas, there is strong support (42%) for family-friendly, flexible working arrangements.

The Barometer 2021 report is at energyinst.org/barometer/2021.

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