Workable solutions to achieve net zero in the UK’s energy sector by 2050 must not underestimate the pivotal role training the supply chain workforce will play in a successful energy transition, says ECITB chief executive Chris Claydon.
With the publication of its Net Zero Strategy reportedly on hold while the Government decides on the best approach to meet the wider costs of energy transition, the ECITB warns that underinvestment in skills now could have a long-term impact on the pace and scale of our decarbonisation efforts. The need to understand skills requirements and plan for volumes of labour is critical. Further delay to these key decisions could result in skills shortages or mismatches that will lead to missed targets and the need to import skills down the line to bridge domestic skills gaps.
The Green Jobs Taskforce report, published in July, calls for Government to set out its detailed net zero strategy so we can build a more accurate picture of skills requirements, shortages and surpluses to meet the specific regional demands of each of the industry clusters. This approach is already in use by the ECITB, where our research into the engineering construction industry labour market has informed the new ECITB Scholarship, which offers different disciplines according to regional demand.
Preparing industry for new technologies, such as the use of hydrogen as a commercial fuel as set out in the government’s recent Hydrogen Strategy, will require holistic workforce planning for the next three decades. Forecasting must also consider competing labour demands as other major projects outside of the industrial clusters will require similar skills and compound pressures on training and recruitment. Without models in place to help predict the peaks and troughs of labour demand, regional industrial clusters could struggle to reduce sector emissions by two-thirds by 2035, and hit the 2050 net zero target.
The ECITB is already looking to align its products and policies to support engineering construction employers around net zero. We know the UK has the engineering talent, particularly in terms of project design. However, the consensus is that the number of people working in the supply chain, in particular in fabrication and construction services, will have to grow considerably. And all will require training and assurance on workplace competence and safety.
To help meet this ramped-up demand, the ECITB will harness technology. Over the past 18 months, we have seen how digital solutions to manage social distancing can also make workplace training more time and cost efficient and allow wider access. The ECITB will continue to develop this combination of online educational materials and opportunities with traditional teaching to deliver a new ‘blended learning’ approach. By making the training and re-skilling required for net zero more accessible and effective, we will be best placed to support industry’s current and future training needs and help deliver the workforce for net zero.