Diversifying a modern workforce

The chief executive of Energy & Utility Skills explains how his organisation is countering outdated impressions of apprenticeships and engaging with new demographics.

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You wake up, unplug your fully charged mobile phone and go to the bathroom. Next you venture downstairs, look at the display on your smart meter and check that your wheelie bin has been rolled to the edge of your property. Perhaps without a second’s thought, you have accessed every facet of a sector that could be considered a hidden cog within the mechanism that is powering much of the UK economy. Providing power, gas, clean water, waste removal, environmental protection and recycling services every day across Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland, energy and utilities are tasked with £105bn of the government’s national infrastructure and construction pipeline, the greatest share of any individual sector.

February was the first anniversary of the release of the Energy & Utilities Workforce Renewal and Skills Strategy – the first high-level guide on how the sector can attract high-quality entrants and demonstrate the workforce resilience needed to meet its responsibilities. Former education secretary Justine Greening announced last November that a group of pan-sector employers would collaborate to lead skills reform; however the Skills Strategy was written by leading sector employers – members of the Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership that was formed in 2016. The Partnership’s 29 members – including Amey, British Gas, E.ON UK, National Grid, UK Power Networks and Veolia – account for the majority of the sector’s assets and a 500,000 UK workforce. It is creating genuine employment and encouraging applications from younger people, career changers, female and ethnic minority applicants that have previously taken different career paths.

Through Talent Source Network (TSN), 20 Skills Partnership members are offering hundreds of vacancies, including apprenticeships, on the sector’s digital platform, together with careers guidance and case studies featuring the experiences of a diverse mix of new starters, recent recruits and senior professionals. Showcasing a wide variety of sector roles – including engineering, HR, communications, IT and customer service – TSN is challenging traditional impressions of the careers available.

By using social media and targeted campaigns, TSN is engaging with more diverse audiences, introducing a more realistic representation of the sector and showing clear and achievable routes to progress from entry-level roles, all the way up to senior management. In addition, the sector apprentices have a crucial opportunity to demonstrate their suitability to qualify and work in safety-critical industries through the Energy & Utilities Independent Assessment Service (EUIAS), which provides high-quality end-point assessment services for nine of the 11 new English standards – including power networks craftsperson, water process technician, dual fuel smart meter installer, gas engineering and utilities engineering technician.

Apprenticeships vary from level two (roughly equivalent to five GCSEs) up to levels six and seven (equal to a bachelor’s and master’s degree respectively), for roles based inside, in laboratories and offices, as well as roles for those who enjoy working outdoors and travelling. Together they offer upward social mobility, helping new recruits onto a career ladder that could lead to well-paid roles within the sector.

Today’s jobseeker must consider the triple threat of automation, downsizing and outsourcing in their chosen sector within a UK economy still yet to leave the European Union. However those who opt for a career in energy and utilities will be joining a sector that will see 221,000 vacancies open up during the next decade. Approximately 31,000 of these will be newly created roles serving the UK’s progression towards a smart energy system that requires a more technically advanced workforce.

Over 220 apprentices have qualified through end-point assessment via the EUIAS and have proceeded into permanent roles, filling critical vacancies as they emerge. The new recruits include the first achiever and the first female engineer achiever at level two (now at E.ON) amongst those that now work in the power, water and gas industries for the likes of Severn Trent Water, SSEN and UK Power Networks. They will be followed by a further 2,000 candidates currently progressing through a sector apprenticeship.

These outcomes have encouraged influential organisations to voice their support for the Skills Strategy. Ofwat confirmed that employers must demonstrate workforce resilience in next year’s price review, PR19. Ofgem has recognised it as “comprehensive” and a “blueprint” to attract diverse talent and develop advanced skills.

As the Skills Partnership continues to gather high level support, apprenticeships are becoming a viable alternative to higher and further education. We are continuing to work with regulators, government ministers and other key stakeholders to deliver lucrative employment opportunities to every young person and career changer looking for a rewarding career in a sector that impacts almost every person in the UK every day.

For more information, please contact Energy & Utility Skills’ Policy and Strategy Team on 0845 077 99 22 or email somia.nasim@euskills.co.uk

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