Renewable energy is becoming a priority for governments all around the world in order to reduce our carbon footprint, but the skills shortage is slowing progression down
From the UK to Nicaragua, almost everyone is trying to reduce emissions and their carbon footprint. Increasing pressure from activists and bodies to meet international climate goals has led to a number of leaders making ambitious promises and taking action on the matter. For example, Prime Minister Theresa May, recently announced that she will legislate a net zero carbon target for 2050. And although the UK has made impressive progress in becoming more eco-friendly, and achieved many major milestones, such as a record stretch of 18 consecutive coal-free days, this goal still seems a little far-fetched considering the energy sector’s dire skills shortage.
Demand for renewable energy is higher than ever across all market segments, and procurement and project investment continue to expand amongst buyers and is spreading to new groups such as smaller companies, oil and gas businesses and asset management firms. Some of the core fundamentals that drove growth in 2018, according to Deloitte, were the declining costs of wind and solar generation, advances in battery storage technology and grid operators’ growing expertise and expanding toolset for integrating intermittent renewable power into the grid. These factors will surely continue to advance, increasing the demand for eco-friendly energy and a capable workforce too.
Where are the shortages?
With this growth, staff shortages are likely to exacerbate, and the industry will need to find a way to drastically expand its talent pool. There won’t only be a need for engineers, but also workers skilled in asset management, leadership, and science. At the end of 2018, the sector employed 11 million people, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), with approximately 112 thousand of these individuals positioned in the UK, and there’s no doubt that this number will shoot up in the coming years. According to IRENA’s Reference Case, employment in the renewable energy sector could reach 12.5 million by 2030 and 14.9 million in 2050. To put this into perspective on a smaller scale, the UK offshore wind industry expects to see job demand in the sector jump to 36,000 from 10,000 over the next 15 years – and this is just one area of renewables.
Why is there a skills shortage?
There are a number of factors contributing to the sector’s skills shortage. The Global Energy Talent Index (GETI) report on employment trends in energy, shows that 58% of the hiring managers surveyed see the “lack of planning for knowledge transfer/skills retention” as the main reason for a lack in available talent. Meanwhile, 21% of renewables employers say the “overall number of professionals entering the industry” is a main contributor.
The lack of people joining the sector is certainly a key problem that needs addressing. Regardless of engineering salaries rising, particularly within the renewables and nuclear fields where renumeration is often higher than in the oil and gas sector, there is still a dearth of professionals entering the industry, but why?
I believe the years of negative portrayal, and lack of insight into the industry is to blame for the scarcity of skilled workers in the sector. Unfortunately, unlike doctors, programmers and scientists, working in the energy field has not been glamorised as a career of choice. Energy has developed the false reputation of being ‘boring’ or for those lacking qualifications.
However, this clearly isn’t true. The energy sector is going through a massive transformation, with renewables leading the way, and exciting opportunities are in abundance.
What should the UK renewable energy sector do to grow its talent pool?
It is clear that more needs to be done to make the sector a career of choice. According to the Engineer’s 2019 salary survey, 32% believe that this can be achieved by the renewable energy sector increasing its focus on young people, followed by 32% who think the focus should be on skills transfer from other sectors. A further 19% say nothing needs to be done as engineers will go where there’s money to be made and 4% opted for recruiting the right skills from overseas.
All of these options will certainly help grow the talent pool, but I believe that there is one significant area that has not been highlighted – increasing diversity. It’s well known that there is a lack of women in STEM and that the energy sector, in particular, is male-dominated. Ignoring this fact and not addressing the problem will unnecessarily limit access to valuable workers.
To increase the long-term visibility of women working in the energy sector, it is vital to approach schools and inform students of the exciting opportunities available to them. It’s important to be thoughtful when doing this, and send the right representatives that both genders can relate to. A male engineer might perpetuate the idea that the industry is just for men. The same approach should be taken at careers fairs when engaging with graduates.
Solving the renewable energy sector’s skills shortage won’t happen overnight. However, by tackling the issue strategically and putting in place the right initiatives now, talent will be available for important future projects. The renewable sector is going through a transformative period, with ground-breaking opportunities available in wind, solar, hydroelectric and more, we just need to get in front of people and let them know.
Business Development Manager
Renewable Energy across the UK and USA at Samuel Knight International