UK industry needs to pick up the challenge of providing the right kinds of green energy skills, or lose the opportunity of a lifetime, according to Tim Balcon, chief executive of UK Energy & Utility Skills.
Mr Balcon, who is also chairman of the cross-government Green Economy Steering Group, and a speaker at the New Energy Workforce Event at the University of Hull on March 28, says that a number of factors, including an ageing skilled workforce and a shortfall in necessary recruitment, were creating a perfect storm that only the industry can prevent.
“There are three or four major issues that need to be approached thoroughly and coherently if we are to avoid a significant skills shortage in the new energy sector in what is the opportunity of a lifetime.
“But the answers lay firmly at the door of UK industry. If industry wants a successful new energy economy it will have to pay for it. But how much does UK industry want it? I don’t know,” said Mr Balcon.
The energy skills expert will be presenting at the New Energy Workforce event - being organised by HCF Ltd and the University of Hull’s business-facing renewable energy and low carbon organisation, CASS – alongside Dr. Eddie O’Connor, chief executive, Mainstream Renewable Power; Martin Hottass, UK skills partner, Siemens; Glenn Sibbick, project director, Centrica Storage, and Steve Batty, production manager, Vivergo Fuels.
Mr Balcon believes there are solutions to the energy skills problem, while identifying the ageing profile of the skilled energy workforce as a major issue, with a significant number of the sector’s skilled workers retiring in 10 to 15 years’ time.
“We will lose whole swathes of the skilled energy workforce by 2025, but the numbers being recruited now are not nearly enough to cope with the shortfall, and that applies to apprenticeships and graduates.
“Although there are some very good training providers out there, the necessary training and recruitment provision and routes into industry are not nearly enough to cope with the number of positions expected,” added Mr Balcon, who believes that companies must work together to achieve a way forward.
“Individual companies, no matter how big, can’t do it on their own. It won’t be solved by single companies but by industry working together, and with educational organisations and local and national government.
“However, those companies need to determine what they need, and a lot of companies don’t actually know what they want.”
Mr Balcon, who is due to leave the UK Energy & Skills Utility at the end of March after 10 years, says that there is also a danger of a lack of coordination.
“Although we need to operate locally and regionally, to make this work there has to be a national strategy and understanding of what skills are required, what demands, what qualifications, and who best to deliver them and where.
“This has to be right across the board so we can really see what we are doing and work towards a common aim. We also need an agreement of a level of competency across all types of green energy jobs, including in health and safety not just in the specialist skills areas. Training needs to be broad and it needs to be robust,” he added.
“Another key issue for the green energy industry is that while it employs traditional engineering skills these skills are applied in a completely different environment. Offshore wind for example, requires experienced engineers and experienced technical operators, but ones who are able to work in unusual surroundings.”
The New Energy Workforce event runs between 1pm and 6pm on Wednesday, March 28, at the University of Hull’s Allam Lecture Theatre. It will assess how the region’s businesses, local government and communities can work together to make the most of the opportunity.
The conference is targeted at the energy intensive industries, supply chain companies, colleges, schools and universities, careers advisers, business support organisations, government and public sector organisations.
The event will be preceded by a business exhibition and workshop, with refreshments provided before and after.
A question and answer panel discussion will be chaired by Tom Heap, BBC Countryfile presenter and Panorama reporter.
Tickets cost £75 +VAT for HCF members, or £90 +VAT for non-members.
A limited number of sponsorship and exhibition opportunities are also available. For more information or to book your place please contact Bethan Clayton, HCF, t. 01469 552841, e. firstname.lastname@example.org