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April 27 2016
Concern about the growing skills shortage in the UK energy market is by no means a new dilemma, but in an industry that loses one in four employees to its adjoining markets, recruiting the next generation of qualified energy workers is an ever-increasing priority.
As global demand for production swells and creates new recruitment prospects in the sector, an estimated 34,000 energy jobs are expected to go unfilled in the UK.
With fewer graduates entering the field and retention and retirement adding pressure to the existing workforce, how can energy gain the new faces it needs to preserve this vital market for years to come?
As global demand increases the need for energy production, engineers to construct generation points in multiple energy sectors are critical to sustain and develop the UK power network. Besides exploration and production in the oil and gas sectors, reducing the country’s carbon footprint is gathering momentum and renewable energy sources have become an important and, as of yet, embryonic area in the industry.
The energy industry in the UK supports some 664,000 jobs from connecting power to the grid to researching how energy extraction can be made more efficient. The sector offers numerous opportunities and yet recruitment, or the lack of, is a mounting risk for the market.
In 2014, Ernst & Young published Powering the UK, which highlighted the energy industry’s aging workforce. The report implicated retirement as a key contributor to employees leaving the field, with 27% of energy’s technical workforce expected to retire by 2024 and, of this, 80% are in positions that require a higher skillset.
The skills gap is being stretched at both ends, as a second report Jobs and growth: the importance of engineering skills to the UK economy published by the Royal Academy of Engineering projects that the number of graduates entering the field is dwindling. An estimated 830,000 engineering professionals and 450,000 technical employees are needed in British industry by 2020 to quell the skills crisis and ensure that sectors like energy have the skilled workforce necessary to thrive. This equates to 100,000 new graduates from Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) courses entering industry every year for the next four years.
Of course, there are several factors driving the skills shortage and challenging the energy sector:
• Competition for skilled recruits between sub-sectors such as Renewable and Gas and Oil.
• Experienced and qualified workers migrating abroad, taking their skills with them.
• Limited numbers of STEM graduates entering the energy sector.
• Lack of visibility for the sector meaning that many don't consider it as a career prospect.
• Ever-changing sector as technology shifts the way energy operates.
• Existing workforce is aging and retiring quicker than new recruits are entering the sector.
Energy is essential to almost every aspect of our lives, and within businesses, energy and its availability determine a range of decisions from investment to sourcing and procurement. For the Government, energy security is vital to supporting industries and influences policy in the UK.
Within the energy industry itself, effective recruitment ensures supply, but each sector has a unique set of procedures and tasks, whether it is oil and gas, electricity, nuclear, coal or renewables. Without the knowledge and skills needed to carry out tasks and applications in the different sectors, the industry as a whole will suffer.
Rapid change, motivated by the economy, policy and the emergence of new technologies, affects the energy industry and influences recruitment. Energy is one of the fastest changing industries in the UK and while retraining existing employees can count towards weathering this change in the short term, future-proofing the industry requires new and qualified recruits.
Attracting STEM graduates is deemed an essential part of stocking energy’s workforce for decades to come. The Government’s Department for Business, Innovation & Skills has promoted hands-on training in multiple industries with specially designed workplace apprenticeships receiving greater support in recent years.
Some argue, however, that these opportunities simply go unnoticed or aren’t introduced to young people early enough in their education. The charity Energy Institute, which supports professional development in the energy industry, explains:
“The main barrier is lack of knowledge of the opportunities available, particularly when choosing examination subjects. If students give up STEM subjects too early then they lose out on a huge range of opportunities.
“Schemes like the Year In Industry are very good. But it’s not just about degree students, we need to recruit them to apprenticeships as well. A good general engineering apprenticeship is of enormous value to employers and some of the ones for well-known companies have more applicants than some university programmes.”
Industry also recognises the need to recruit from a diverse employee pool. The number of women in the energy sector has been touted as a particular concern and the organisation POWERful Women has called for a change in energy companies in the UK. It wants to see women placed in decision-making positions, calling for the energy industry to readdress the imbalance and ensure that 40% of middle management roles are filled by women by 2030.
Building a more diverse energy industry isn’t just isolated to women and Energy Institute says:
“The engineering and science communities are tackling the issue of diversity because we need to make the most of all the talent that we have. Role models are important when convincing people from all backgrounds to consider a career in engineering.”
Addressing the skills crisis, many in energy have turned their attention to recruitment strategies looking at sourcing skilled employees from other sectors. Transition has been particularly successful for those discharging from the Armed Forces and searching for a second career. Initiatives such as the Career Transition Partnership help ex-forces recruits find new prospects in industries appropriate to their skills and experience.
In Siemens’ Skills in Energy: Bridging the Gap recruiting from the armed forces and other fields was noted as beneficial to the energy industry in that it helps to safeguard UK skills and ensures that economic growth continues.
HR Director at Siemens, Mike Jones, said: “We attract people now from a range of industries including aerospace, MoD, advanced engineering, oil and gas, as well as the wider energy and utility sector.”
Energy faces a turbulent time. While technology’s progression is introducing new and exciting applications in the industry, recruitment remains a core concern as sectors face up to the skills challenge. The UK’s energy sector is integral to the economy and the country’s stability. A strong workforce is vital to its continued success and finding skilled employees to engage with the many opportunities available is crucial for the country to stay powerful.
Find out more about job opportunities in the sector by visiting our energy recruitment page.