Luke Osborne, ECA Energy and Emerging Technologies Solutions Advisor, looks at why the electrical industry needs to focus on ‘upskilling’ if the government is to reach those ambitious Net Zero Carbon targets.
Evidence shows we have little time to mitigate the ongoing impacts of global warming. As such, ECA is focused on supporting the electrical and wider engineering service sector’s delivery of ‘active’ technologies and skills to help attain the UK’s Net Zero Carbon 2050 target.
‘Active’ technologies include the full range of equipment and systems that provide ‘low to no carbon’ energy solutions. They include solar and wind energy, heat pumps, EV charging, energy storage, and other smart, monitoring and wireless systems. They’re distinct from ‘passive’ energy solutions such as insulation.
To this end, ECA recently partnered with TESP, BESA, the Renewable Energy Association and Solar Energy UK (formerly the Solar Trade Association) to produce the Skills4Climate industry report, examining ways to ensure our sector has the required skills base.
The report gives voice to the views and experiences of nearly 150 electrotechnical businesses, ranging from microbusinesses to those with over 500 employees, and the results are already helping to map the way forward for our sector.
Where are the workers?
There was overwhelming survey support for a ‘low to no carbon’ UK economic recovery following the pandemic, but the report also showed that a quarter (25%) of respondents would struggle to find workers with the necessary ‘green’ skills to help deliver it.
Speaking about the report, Andrew Eldred, ECA’s Director of Employment & Skills, said: “Despite a powerful consensus in favour of transition to a low carbon economy, skills policy and delivery in this area remains sub-optimal, with insufficient engineering services sector input and buy-in”.
Renewable energy, heat pumps, electric vehicle charging, smart systems and energy storage all require specialist design and installation skills, and almost half of respondents (48%) believe there is ‘insufficient training’ to enable installers to deliver all these low carbon technologies.
Yet with a suitably skilled workforce, many more engineering services businesses can pivot successfully into these technologies, as is already happening in the growing arena of EV charging. Other low carbon technologies, such are heat pumps, are also being lined up.
Respondents also pointed to too many disjointed training offerings and standalone short courses, causing confusion, mismatched standards and undermining sector confidence in what to do next. To make significant progress in regards to low carbon skills, government, industry and education providers need to work together to deliver a joined-up nationwide training programme.
Andrew added: “A more inclusive and strategic approach is required to encourage more engineering services employers to upskill their current workforce to deliver a low carbon revolution, and to recruit and train the next cohort of school leavers for secure and meaningful careers for the future.”
A re-skilling agenda
ECA is a member body of the engineering services alliance, Actuate UK, which is now considering the Skills4Carbon report.
Supporting the Actuate UK launch event earlier this year, David Pinder, Chair of the CLC Green Construction Board, told launch attendees: “I’m pleased to see Actuate UK concentrating not just on new zero carbon, but also on skills development. I believe that delivering on net zero will rely more on developing essential green skills than on further developing the technology, and progress must include both new and re-skilling.”
So, it seems everyone agrees that low carbon installations need a suitably trained and competent workforce, with practically useful and properly scoped training for new sector entrants, notably in the form of apprenticeships, and optimised upskilling activity for the larger cohorts of existing installers.
Arguably, despite all the many challenges facing electrical and other engineering services businesses (as well as society in general), there’s never been a more exciting time to be a part of the electrotechnical industry, nor a time that requires such urgency to develop the necessary skills to help decarbonise the UK.
Get more details about ECA’s Net Zero policy position here.