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Transferable skills provide relief for green sector shortages

The green energy sector in the UK continues to prosper.

Through increased investment and tough carbon emission targets, the green energy sector in the UK continues to prosper. The Climate Change Act has committed the country to ambitious green house gas reductions on 1990 levels of 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 and this has brought a sense of urgency to a sector with huge potential.

The Bain Report published in (2008) suggests there are 5,000 direct full time employees recorded in the UK large-scale wind energy industry (both onshore and offshore) and wave and tidal industries combined, and that the sector will deliver no less than 70,000 new jobs by 2020, encompassing both senior and mid level management roles, as well as high skilled labour. This equates to a 25% per year increase.

This growth will be seen in sectors ranging from offshore wind power to eco-friendly packaging design. 26,000 of these jobs will come from emerging technologies including 10,000 from carbon capture and storage and a further 8000 jobs provided by environmental management opportunities such as consultancy work and pollution control.

The demand for talent is vast and is likely to proliferate across all sectors, from consultancy and supply chain companies, to the energy companies themselves. Research, manufacturing, operations & maintenance, construction and development are all areas of employment growth and will continue to develop as the industry secures further investment.

Skilled workers with experience in grid connections, engineering, heavy industry and high-value capital projects will be vital for construction and operations and maintenance roles. Similarly, those with a management or commercial background within the traditional energy sectors will be required to oversee the development of upcoming green energy projects and cutting-edge technologies, from wind turbines to smart grid software.

As with any industry in its infancy, rapid growth brings skills shortages. Just as the water, gas and electricity sectors have experienced shortages in recent years, the green energy sector is currently lacking skills, both for skilled workers as well as operations and senior managers.

These shortages have resulted from a number of factors, ranging from an ageing workforce demographic, to a lack of trained and skilled employees coming through the system. But these shortages have been exacerbated by employer's reluctance to take on managers and skilled workers from other sectors.

Rick Eggleston, managing director of REpower comments: "Many energy and supply chain companies advertise for, and hold out for, candidates with direct renewables experience rather than tapping into the rich pool of transferable skills from related sectors such as oil & gas, utilities and telecoms.

"With an expansion from 5000 direct jobs to 70,000 by 2020, a 25% per year increase, employers must look further afield, and start bringing people into the industry from a wider employment pool. This includes providing the correct 'bridge' training courses and giving new managers and skilled workers the time and support required to make the transition."

Tom Hopkinson, managing director of Taylor Hopkinson, the only dedicated renewable energy, clean technology and sustainability sector recruitment company head quartered in Scotland, comments on some of the other contributing factors to these shortages: "We have witnessed a surge in demand for skilled and management roles across the green sector. In some areas there are skills shortages.

"These skills shortages have been exacerbated by a lack of awareness of the opportunities, particularly for senior management roles. Potential employees are neither informed nor incentivised enough, and this is affecting the throughput of talent into the industry.

"Furthermore, there is a lack of training made available from Further Education institutions and by the industry itself. In fact there is currently only one full time certified wind technician course in the UK at Northumberland College, and the BWEA working group has recently opened an apprenticeship for school leavers at Carnegie College in Fife.

"Employers and the government must invest more in training, both to develop new talent, and to make better use of the talent we already have. This will require new apprenticeship schemes, 'bridge' or 'cross' training courses, and FE courses for the new talent coming through."

Mr Hopkinson continues: "The industry must also look to collaborate and pool resources to make sure this happens. We are currently working closely with employers, trade associations and the government through the Energy and Utility Skills' Renewable Energy Workforce Planning Group to ensure the workforce is better informed and incentivised, as well as developing the relevant skills for the task in hand. We need to see more of this, across all sectors."

According to Taylor Hopkinson, some the greatest shortages have come from senior and operational management roles across the wind energy sector. Companies across the supply chain, from wind turbine manufacturers to technology and design consultancies and energy companies are looking for ambitious new managers to lead a period of unprecedented growth, in a young and vibrant industry.

Scott Sutherland from Aberdeen is a Wind Turbine Manager at EDF Energy Renewables. He comments on how transferable skills have helped him in his career: "I came into the industry from automotive engineering sector and found that many of the skills I had developed there were very useful for my current job working in the wind sector.

"Having a basic knowledge of engineering, particularly electrical engineering, is hugely helpful, and is well sought after by the sector. It's such a young, vibrant industry the chance to develop my skills and get promoted quickly has been fantastic, and I have got all the training I needed as I went along.

"I believe there's no better time to join the industry to be honest. It's a rapidly growing sector, and there are massive opportunities for those with the necessary skills."