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Creative thinking for solving skills gaps in the energy sector

Posted by: Katherine Garratt 22 Apr 15 - 10:34AM  | Engineering
As recently published in Utility Week, Jonathan Lee Recruitment's Lead Consultant for Power Generation, Les Hines, discusses how fresh thinking about transferable skills and upskilling will help the UK harness the capabilities it needs to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

The UK energy landscape is changing rapidly with decommissioning of older fossil-fuelled plants well underway and myriad initiatives to accelerate growth in renewable capacity. 
As the energy mix becomes increasingly fragmented, it has become clear that finding people with the skillsets to deliver this change across such a diverse energy portfolio is a major challenge. 
  Les Hines - Lead Consultant Power Generation and Energy
 Les Hines, Lead Consultant  for Power Generation

Creative thinking for solving skills gaps in the energy sector - fresh thinking about transferable skills and upskilling

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills recently highlighted the need to invest in skills, particularly when jobs in the sector are set to increase by 15.5 per cent by 2022. While steps are being taken to develop the next generation of energy engineers and technical experts, for many businesses their need is immediate and for some urgent.

Behind the flagship STEM training and recruitment initiatives, such as the dedicated Oil and Gas College announced last November, University Technology Colleges, the Energy and Utilities Skills Group and the National Skills Academy, there are subtler influences at play that can help to meet the engineering recruitment challenge.

Transferable skills is an area that is often talked about, but in engineering such attributes can go beyond standard requirements such as project management, communication and leadership. One example is expertise in fluid dynamics, which is used in the automotive, aerospace, food and drink and utilities sector. Another is the ability to apply lean principles, originally pioneered in the automotive sector, to the specification and operation of plant processes.

Access to a greater pool of potential employees can be leveraged by rethinking job specifications and considering transferable skills. This flexibility requires partnership with HR to avoid the common pitfall of judging applications against a standard tick list.

Realising the potential to upskill existing staff and reskill new candidates can also help to bridge the talent gap. We are increasingly seeing the use of interims, across the engineering spectrum, being brought in to manage critical projects whilst at the same time building the skills of existing staff.

Decommissioning and commissioning of generation plant and work on utilities infrastructure can often demand great flexibility and mobility on the part of the work force, sometimes to very remote areas. This too, can be a barrier and companies can do more to reward committed employees through favourable and flexible packages that also help to support staff retention.

Many of the large engineering and utility companies have built global networks that can deliver much-needed skills to help innovation and delivery in energy projects. Indeed, it is not unusual to see ‘expert gangs’ brought in from overseas to manage specific elements of commissioning a new piece of equipment. These are often employed by the OEM as its dedicated team of specialists. Their work is complementary to the overall delivery of a project but their deployment needs to be managed sensitively and openly.

Drawing in skilled engineers from overseas needs careful management in the context of providing complementary skills and experience that cannot be found in the UK, the potential for job swaps should be explored to help develop skills.

Collaboration and transparency are critical to commissioning a multi-national team, but managed effectively can support knowledge sharing and re-skilling of the wider workforce that can ultimately help fast-track skills development in the UK as well as urgently needed project delivery.

Our team of highly experienced consultants, headed by Les Hines are passionate about recruitment, supporting the industry in the UK and farther afield to build lasting relationships with our clients.

 Contact Les Hines on LinkedIn to discuss your recruitment needs or call 01384 446165.
 Follow the Power Generation team on Twitter for the latest news and updates @jonlee_powergen.
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