Building the Net Zero Energy Workforce
The UK energy sector has a history of constantly evolving to reflect the requirements of society and resources available. Once again, the industry is facing a period of immense change as it moves to scale down its most carbon intensive energy production and catalyse investment in renewables, including investing in offshore power generation with renewed impetus. The UK is currently facing a large ‘green skills’ gap, which deteriorated during the pandemic, despite the relevant crop of skills from within the existing energy industry. The supply of skills will primarily come from the oil and gas industry, however whilst 400,000 jobs are needed to build the Net Zero Energy Workforce to deliver on decarbonisation targets, only an estimated 270,000 people currently work in the oil and gas industry. Furthermore, a large proportion of these workers are set to retire as the UK faces an economy-wide baby boomer retirement. Therefore, the remaining workforce will need to be transitioned into the adjacent renewables and nuclear sector, and despite the transferability of skills, additional upskilling to tailor these skills to green roles will still be necessary.
To ensure the UK reaches its net zero emissions goal by 2050, the UK energy sector must meet its ambitious milestones within the next decade. The Committee for Climate Change and others have begun to map the route to net zero. This new decade requires transformation on a major scale, but we can’t succeed without a skilled workforce to make change happen.
In this decade of climate action, there are four strategic challenges which the UK must overcome if we are to build the Net Zero Energy Workforce:
1. Losing existing talent: Just as the UK energy sector needs confidence in its ability to deliver change on a huge scale, research from the Energy & Utility Skills Partnership warns of two factors that will shrink our existing workforce over the next decade. Firstly, we face a retirement crunch. 20% of people currently working in the energy sector are set to retire by 2030 as the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation reaches pensionable age. Secondly, the workforce continues to lose employees after they have had career breaks. Energy & Utility Skills’ research estimates that more than 75% of women who leave engineering after maternity leave or career breaks want to return but are put off due to inflexible working hours and practices.
2. Competition for talent: The sector must compete for and attract the best STEM qualified talent. However, competition for these candidates is fierce and every year the energy sector loses out to other industries such as finance and technology.
3. The STEM pipeline challenge: Although more young people are choosing to study STEM subjects, building a Net Zero Energy Workforce will require a significant increase. Once a young person opts out of STEM subjects, the route into a net zero career becomes harder. In research carried out for National Grid by YouGov, UK adults cited lack of relevant qualifications as the biggest barrier to getting a job tackling climate change.
4. Lack of diversity in the sector: A diverse workforce in a supportive environment drives success – through different perspectives, new ideas and greater creativity – all of which contribute to more effective problem solving.
Skill Set for the Net Zero Energy Workforce.
Operating and maintaining an increasingly decentralised energy system on ever greener power and gas will require a spectrum of skills across a whole range of experienced workers.
- Digital and data skills: To harness AI to maximise the reliability, responsiveness and accuracy of the UK’s energy system, the sector will need to attract experts in machine learning. Digital skills and data analytics will become core skills for the Net Zero Energy Workforce, with big data used for network planning, more efficient maintenance and improving risk mitigation.
- Designing and implementing new technologies: The Net Zero Energy Workforce will require highly skilled scientists, engineers and designers to design, test and maximise the potential for new technologies such as effective carbon capture, hydrogen gas, and to enable growth in networks that deliver energy from source to people’s homes.
- Scientists and engineers skilled in renewable energy: From installing new wind farms to building solar capacity, huge changes to how the UK generates its electricity are required if we are to increase low carbon generation by c.50% this decade.
Planning to Build the Net Zero Energy Workforce.
The energy sector will need to retain and retrain its current workforce to ensure workers of all ages and backgrounds can play their part in the journey to net zero. Investment in training existing colleagues and upskilling new recruits will be essential. While this can be achieved through in-house initiatives, external partnerships can support cross-sector training in new and emerging skills such as artificial intelligence (AI).
By leveraging people’s passion for climate action and a desire to work in a net zero career, the energy sector can attract the best and the brightest. Tapping into a career with purpose, showing how a job in the energy sector helps achieve net zero will attract the talent we need. It can also motivate and retain existing employees, keeping vital expertise within the sector.