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Energy sector: responses to the skill shortage of engineers

Martin Grant | 26 Jan 2015 | Comments

One of the most significant challenges facing the energy sector is the impending retirement of the ‘baby boomer’ generation – our most experienced engineers. As highlighted in the Energy section of the report, the UK has not built a new nuclear power station for more than 20 years, meaning the only engineers with the relevant skills and experience will either be in the later stages of their career or have gained their knowledge from overseas. To be losing these individuals and their experience to retirement is itself a crisis. Coupled with a shortage of young engineers coming through the system, we are going to struggle to resource projects at both ends of the spectrum.

With the government’s National Infrastructure Plan containing energy projects totalling £274bn, with £194.7bn of that already in construction and £80.2bn set aside for future investment, skills must continue to be a top priority in the ever evolving energy landscape. These are large scale projects which will need high levels of experienced, technical and safety engineering professionals to deliver the programmes such as Moorside and Hinkley Point C, as well as the potential for new approaches like the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon to come online alongside maintenance of existing infrastructure.

We are also witnessing increasing levels of engineers moving across sectors. With fewer people with the right skills available, wages will be used, as we are already seeing today, as a mechanism to attract the best talent onto key infrastructure projects. This in turn will have a rippling impact across all the infrastructure sectors. As wages are driven up, this puts additional cost pressures on projects. It is important that this is accounted for as projects are developed.

The need for new energy infrastructure has already driven the sector to focus very carefully in recent years on the current skills resources available and what we need to do to tackle a skills shortage. Hinkley Point C is a great example of business and government working collaboratively, identifying a skills gap and plugging it. With specific qualifications and training on many energy projects, it’s important we have funding and opportunities for individuals to be skilled up to the standards required on these projects. This is why government, which recognised the training needs of this major infrastructure project demand extra resource, allocated £1.275 million to support a consortium of training providers across the South West to up-skill and re-train local people. We need to take these positive, working examples as best practice in assessing and understanding our resourcing challenges and use them across other sectors before the skills shortage challenge sets in and impacts future projects.

The full skills report is available to view / download here.