British energy transition ‘an opportunity to train 200,000 workers this decade’

Pictured: Orsted apprentices at Hornsea Two offshore wind farm. Image: Orsted

Published today (8 August), PwC’s research paper on jobs in the energy transition concludes that, by 2030, 270,000 skilled workers from the fossil fuel sectors will likely be leaving as the net-zero transition continues. At the same time, 400,000 jobs will be needed in low-carbon energy sectors including nuclear, renewables and hydrogen. With one-fifth of the fossil fuel leavers set to retire, there could be an overall gap of 200,000 skilled workers for the clean energy sectors.

This raises questions about whether the Government, public and private sectors have ambitious and joined-up enough plans to reskill and upskill the existing workforce and to grow the pipeline of fresh talent.

Under Boris Johnson, the Government created a Green Jobs Taskforce featuring representatives from businesses, trade bodies, education and NGOs. The Taskforce’s has published one major briefing with another due this year. However, no fully updated careers and/or skills strategy has been created.

The Government’s overarching ambition is for the UK to host two million green-collar jobs in 2030, up from around 208,000 in 2020. Shortly after the publication of the Net-Zero Strategy last October, MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) warned that it only detailed the creation of a further 440,000 green jobs by 2030. The High Court has since ruled that the Strategy is unlawful as it does not properly detail how the UK will achieve its legally binding climate targets.

PwC’s head of regions Carl Sizer said: “The big challenge will be finding additional workers outside the energy sector to build the clean energy labourforce needed for net zero. The opportunity is to create highly skilled jobs in locations that may currently lack these.”

To his latter point, the energy transition may well present opportunities for the Government to deliver on its levelling up rhetoric, as distribution networks will need upgrading across the country and as small-scale nuclear and renewables grow.

Sizer also noted the opportunity to get more women, and others from demographics currently under-represented in the UK’s energy sector, trained up. One 2021 report from PwC found that women hold just 21% of executive positions in the energy sector and that. When positions at all levels are covered, less than 19% are estimated to be held by women. The sector is also lagging on ethnic diversity, with 93% of staff being white compared with 79-82% of the general population.

PwC is proposing the development of new energy apprenticeship programmes and technical training schemes that can be taken mid-career, along with targeted communications. The report states that “a range of interventions” should be considered to encourage under-represented demographics to consider energy jobs.

Allaying job loss fears

The paper emphasises that, while job losses in the coal sector are forthcoming, with the UK’s remaining plants needing to come offline by autumn 2024, job gains in other sectors will more than offset the reduction of jobs in the fossil fuel space.

PwC states that up to 90% of roles in oil, gas and coal are transferable, meaning that job losses this decade are likely to be minimal – particularly if the private sector increases efforts in upskilling as the transition plan mandate is rolled out. Net job gains are driven by the nuclear and offshore wind sector, which the Conservative Government have increased targets for through the recent Energy Security Strategy. The Strategy also increased targets for hydrogen, presenting another major reskilling and upskilling opportunity.

“While the shift to green energy is as significant as the industrial revolution, job loss should be far less this time round,” said PwC’s Sizer.  “Rather than face an abrupt cliff edge, workers will see their roles become greener over time, many should be able to stay in the same company, while others will reach retirement age.”

Many firms, the report notes, are already advertising for jobs in functions and sectors that can reduce emissions. It states that 24.6% of job adverts in the electricity and gas sector were in these roles in 2021, up from 21.1% in 2020.

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