Writing as a guest contributor to Energy World, the monthly journal published by the Energy Institute, Jonathan Lee introduces the challenges facing the Energy sector.
THE NEW POWER GENERATION
The energy sector is undergoing a massive transformation. Not only is it transitioning from traditional to renewable generation, assets and infrastructure are also undergoing major renewal, with new connected technologies radically shifting the types of skills needed to meet future requirements.
Against this dramatic and dynamic backdrop, the lights must stay on and this is challenging, with one utilities training organisation predicting wage inflation to match that of premier league football players (DTL training, June 2016).
The Energy Networks Association acknowledges that one of the biggest potential barriers to innovation and smart grids is the national shortage of skilled engineers, which threatens the development of networks in the coming years. The power and distribution sector has already put in place a number of initiatives through organisations such as the National Skills Academy for Power (NSAP) to facilitate joint working on attracting and retaining talent to the sector.
Add to this that, like rail and aerospace, the energy sector is dealing with a broad spectrum of engineering challenges, from managing legacy systems, some of which date back 50 years and rely heavily on mechanical skills, through to rolling out smart internet-based technologies such as remote monitoring, drone inspection and data collection and analysis that require electronics and IT skills and the scale of the problem becomes apparent. But by far the largest challenge, according to NSAP, is that over the next 10 years 80% of the existing workforce will retire. It is imperative that these highly knowledgeable assets are fully involved in engaging, inspiring and training the engineers of the future.
The energy sector needs to harness the experience of its ageing workforce, finding effective ways of encouraging knowledge-transfer through structured mentoring programmes, partnering and fast track training programmes whilst still keeping the day to day operations running smoothly. Analysing the skills and competencies of existing staff in detail would also help to identify opportunities for up-skilling and re-skilling.
There are some common features emerging in the race for talent. Encouraging diversity in the talent pool is one; women still represent less than 10% of the engineering community. The need for a collaborative approach to workforce planning, people development and promotion of the industry as an attractive place to work, is also vital. The most popular solution is to look globally for new skills.
However in Brexit Britain, 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, job swap schemes might be a way of developing skills. Collaboration with other international players, if managed effectively, could accelerate knowledge sharing and re-skilling of the wider workforce for the future, as well as aiding urgently needed project delivery.