The energy sector needs the right skills and people if we’re to deliver on ambitious climate change plans

Actions to tackle climate change and reach net-zero have gained rapid momentum in recent months. The government’s Ten Point Plan, a new target to cut emissions and the long-awaited Energy White Paper are all part of this. And a central feature is a recognition that the UK will need to create hundreds-of-thousands of green jobs to deliver on these ambitions.

We carried out research last year that showed the energy industry needs to recruit 400,000 jobs between now and 2050 to get the UK to net-zero. Meanwhile, the London School of Economics analysis estimates that over six million people have skills which will be affected by the transition to clean energy (representing 21% of current jobs), demonstrating the sheer impact of the shift involved and the scale of training needed.

Many industries are facing a skills deficit, but for the energy sector, in particular, that deficit has bigger implications; these jobs are the jobs that can’t wait. The industry is facing a shrinking workforce and loss of talent over the next decade; one-fifth of people currently working in the sector are set to retire by 2030 as the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation reaches pensionable age. Competition for talent is fierce as banking, finance and technology companies recruit many physics graduates. And, there is the STEM pipeline problem, starting at school and running through to degree level, with not enough students opting for physics and maths, two key subjects for engineering.

With these challenges in mind and the critical need to increase green skills, the energy industry is up against a difficult task to attract and train-up talent that can deliver on the huge amount to be done in the next decade. This includes increasing low carbon electricity generation by around 50%, from sources such as wind or solar power; installing low carbon heating systems in 2.8 million homes; developing CCUS technology and hydrogen networks; and installing around 60,000 charging points to power approximately 11 million electric vehicles.

None of this will happen if the industry doesn’t have the right people, with the right skills. We know people are increasingly motivated by a job with purpose, and the energy sector has a clear mission at its heart. Over three-quarters of UK adults want to play a part in reaching the UK’s net-zero goal and more than half want to work for an organisation that helps get us there. The UK needs a net-zero workforce to tackle climate change and transform the energy grid. This requires developing generations of talent, investing in young people and encouraging careers in STEM.

There is no silver bullet approach that can address this issue overnight. There needs to be a collective and collaborative effort from government, energy companies, talent specialists, industry partners, unions, campaigning groups, NGOs and educational institutions to ensure a fair energy transition, in which workers of all ages and backgrounds, and from every community, can get involved. And vital to achieving this is placing diversity and inclusion at the centre of recruitment, reaching untapped talent that could build this workforce.

There is a range of approaches which need to be leveraged such as fostering strong partnerships and engaging with schools to raise awareness and inspire young people. For example, National Grid has partnered with underrepresented talent specialists MyKindaFuture to encourage innovation in engineering and get more young people into STEM subjects. Over five years, the aim is to reach 100,000 diverse young people across South London, developing their employability skills and encouraging careers in STEM.

Apprenticeships are another key way to develop a long-term workforce. These programmes can help nurture talent at entry-level, creating a cohort of skilled employees ready to hit the ground running. Many young people who start their careers on apprenticeship schemes often go on to be future business leaders. Crucial to the success of apprenticeship programmes is the right support that can enable young people to thrive. The newly launched Youth Verified programme reflects how critical this is to the UK’s future workforce, providing accreditation for employers – such as National Grid, Capita and Electrocomponents plc – that actively develop young talent in an inclusive, transparent and responsible way.  

Targeting individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds can also help ensure that no one is left behind. These communities don’t have the same employment opportunities and need focused efforts to reach them. Recently we launched our Responsible Business Charter which committed to provide access to skills development for 45,000 people by 2030, with a specific focus on lower-income communities. Programmes that provide training and employment opportunities across the energy sector such as Grid for Good can also help connect energy companies and charities with recruitment efforts in a way that is beneficial to the industry and the UK’s green economic recovery.

As we look ahead to the next 12 months, the Green Jobs Taskforce, which aims to support the creation of two million skilled jobs to build back greener and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, will be important for bringing together different voices to address this challenge. Combined with the National Skills Fund expecting to launch this year, the right intentions and infrastructure are being put in place to get the industry on the right track. Momentum has been established and now we mustn’t let progress stall if the UK is to build the workforce required to deliver the change the world desperately needs.

 Sally-Anne Dudley, UK Head of Learning, and Dan Tingle, New Talent and STEM Manager at National Grid

Comments (1)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    The pivotal point in this discussion concerns the manner of generating energy. The necessary skills lie primarily with the physical sciences and engineering. If non fossil sources are called for, only nuclear is the clear answer. Wind, wave and solar are not 24 hour reliable sources. Only nuclear can supply all our demand for electricity, but it seems not to be in great favour, it is not cheap and promises no quick profits, vital to the financial sector.
    Richard Phillips
    ex AERE Harwell.

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