Skills Shortage in the Energy Sector

Published: 18 July 2013

Further to the earlier post regarding our energy event I wanted to write further about the skills shortages in the sector. Many in attendance recounted difficulties of recruiting skilled people when the need arose. One company found themselves needing overhead linesman and the only option they had was to recruit from the Philippines, on £100k salaries. This is a very overinflated salary for the skills required, but there is no other option; there are not the trained staff in the UK. These salaries will be passed on to customers, and furthermore most people would be reticent to employ non-UK residents.

So, how to tackle this shortage of ‘home talent’? Some felt that the government should provide training, others felt it was the responsibility of the energy companies themselves. As one guest pointed out, some companies would avoid playing by the rules and simply ‘poach’ staff from their more utilitarian peers. Neil Robertson (Chief Executive, Energy & Utility Skills Group) suggested a solution which would bring the public and private sectors together; The Government should put together legislation obligating energy companies to invest a portion of their procurement budget on training and apprenticeships. This would really level the playing field and put the energy sector at the forefront in terms of skilled workforce.

Another issue raised in relation to the skills shortage is the lack of ‘willingness’ to work in the sector. A guest told us of the need to recruit staff to work at a new site in Scotland, which would require camping on a mountain to receive training on-site. He claimed the only people willing to take the jobs were German and Polish; local people would not consider it.  Cynically one might say this fits in with Duncan Botting’s claim that we, in the UK, do too much consulting, and not enough doing; are we a work-shy society?

One possible explanation for the skills shortage is that the energy sector is not seen as being as ‘attractive’ as other sectors, such as oil and gas, to young people looking to start their careers. So perhaps the skills shortage is a PR issue…

There is clearly work to be done on solving the skills shortage, and as soon as possible to ensure the future supply of skilled labour. Hopefully the event got everyone thinking, and hopefully this will lead to some ‘doing!’

By Faye Middleton, Researcher within the Energy Manufacturing & Infrastructure Practice at Berwick Partners

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