Does UK lack the skills to match the renewables' demand?

by Tom Hopkinson. Published Fri 26 Mar 2010 21:37
Will skills shortage result in a false dawn for renewables?

Tom Hopkinson, Managing Director of Taylor Hopkinson Associates, Scotland’s only specialist renewable energy, clean technology and sustainability sector recruitment services company, comments on a report released this week entitled ‘Towards a Low Carbon Economy’.

The report states that in Scotland alone, 500 jobs will be created a month until 2020 by the green energy sector.

Hopkinson queries: “This week’s green energy report states that 20,000 jobs will be generated by the renewable sector by 2020, a figure supported by Scottish Renewables. However, we believe the report though positive, is missing the point. There will certainly be more jobs, but the question is, do we have the skills to fill them?

“There is a risk that worsening domestic skills shortages will mean many roles will be supplied by foreign companies, based overseas. In this case, the benefit to Scotland and wider UK economy will be negligible.

“I would say right now the skills within the supply chain in Scotland are not informed or incentivised enough to support this rate of growth, but there are plenty of international workforces that are already grasping this opportunity and positioning themselves to take better advantage of this increase in demand.

“In response to the report, Finance Secretary John Swinney talks of the benefits of the green revolution on the Scottish economy, but in the renewable sector, we are in danger of missing the boat. We have witnessed first-hand a number of energy companies already short on skills, particularly engineers in the wind sector, which is exacerbated by the workforce nationally aging and a lack of new talent with relevant skills and education entering the market.

“We have identified a number of reasons for this. Firstly, there is a lack of available training and development courses, both from within the industry, and the FE sector. Currently Northumberland College is the only institution providing certified, comprehensive and specialist ‘wind skills courses’ in the UK.

“There is also a reluctance from renewable energy companies and the supply chain to hire people without direct experience, which is understandable when they will be responsible for multi-million and, in some cases, multi-billion-pound projects. However, we see this rich UK resource as a key, yet largely untapped asset for filling the skills gap.

“The transferable skills are there, but many who have the skills are not aware of the opportunities available to them.”

Dan Finch, SeaEnergy Renewables Development Director commented on the value of Oil and Gas sector skills for new and more challenging wind power projects:

“A step-change is coming to the offshore wind generation industry, and it is coming to the UK first. Generation is moving further offshore, and into more challenging conditions in the North Sea.

"We have to identify and recognise that the skills and experience we have built up working in the offshore environment in the oil industry are valuable and transferrable, and will be vital to the successful development of offshore wind generation.”

Hopkinson added: “It is certainly not all doom and gloom. We believe the skills gap can be narrowed in the timescales required through greater and more sustained collaboration between the industry and the public sector.

An increase of investment in training and development initiatives, skills transfer courses and new and more plentiful FE courses for the next generation of wind energy professionals in Scotland will go a long way to ensuring jobs remain in this country over the long term.”

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