Addressing the skills shortage

January 2018 saw the launch of the government's Year of the Engineer initiative to encourage young people and their parents to consider careers in the sector to address the UK shortfall. Kate Davies, chief operating officer at Energy & Utility Skills Group, discusses this and the work its doing to address skills shortages in the sector.

Addressing the skills shortage

The energy and utilities sector welcomes the launch of a government initiative that is aiming to engage and attract younger audiences to careers in engineering. As part of its Year of Engineering, central government has pledged to “work with hundreds of industry partners throughout 2018 to encourage young people and their parents to take a closer look at engineering.”

It complements the work already underway with the Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership, a collaboration of 29 gas, power, water and waste management employers, who have identified a number of priorities to address the sector’s skills challenges, including the need to broaden the STEM talent pool. Progress is being made in this area through two initiatives: the sector’s digital attraction platform, Talent Source Network (TSN) and a specialist provider of end-point assessment services for sector apprenticeships, Energy & Utilities Independent Assessment Service (EUIAS).

TSN raises the profile of sector opportunities by hosting vacancies from across the UK, careers guidance and case studies from a diverse mix of new starters and recent recruits. It was launched as a pilot scheme in February 2017 and has since transitioned to a three-year programme, which has seen Amey, Cadent, SGN, Thames Water and Welsh Water among those to have joined pilot power and gas companies, including Scottish Power, SSE, Northern Gas Networks, Electricity Northwest, Northern Power Grid, Morrison, British Gas, E.ON, National Grid and UK Power Networks in supporting the initiative. 

TSN is engaging with audiences that the sector has historically found more difficult to attract. Females comprise just 14 and 22 per cent of the respective workforces in gas and power, with the numbers being lower for those from black or minority ethnic backgrounds: four and five per cent respectively. The ability to engage with more diverse audiences will be key to the sector building a resilient enough workforce to deliver its commitments to the National Infrastructure & Construction Pipeline.

Through targeted campaigns and social media activity, TSN has created a total of two million opportunities to see its messaging, attracting nearly 4,000 candidates seeking careers in the sector.


Collaboration is key

A key strength of Talent Source Network is the impact that can be achieved through sector collaboration.

Building a longer-term, more diverse talent pool was one of the aims of the Workforce Renewal & Skills Strategy, which was co-written by the Skills Partnership. The results that can be achieved with a collective focus tackling sector-wide issues have been clearly demonstrated in a short period of time. For the same reason, we welcome the Year of Engineering’s launch and the involvement of central government in addressing sector attraction challenges.

These challenges are well-documented. The aforementioned Skills Strategy predicts the whole sector will need to fill 221,000 vacancies by 2027, which will comprise the retirement of approximately 100,000 of its ageing workforce and the creation of 31,000 new jobs, many of which will require an increased level of technical and engineering skill as the UK moves towards a smart energy system. The sector currently has a lack of suitably skilled labour: 36 per cent of vacancies are proving hard to fill due to skills shortages. This is the highest proportion of any UK sector and compared to the national average of 23 per cent.

In addressing these disparities, the Skills Strategy has also inspired another initiative alongside TSN that is increasing investment in skills. A specialist provider of end-point assessment services for sector apprenticeships, the Energy & Utilities Independent Assessment Service (EUIAS) has seen over 150 engineers join seven UK gas and power companies, including Morrison and Northern Powergrid. With another 2,000 candidates currently on sector apprenticeships, many more engineers will join the sector.

The success of the EUIAS demonstrates that the Year of Engineering has been launched during a time of great strides in engineer recruitment.

These, with Talent Source Network, make for exciting times for the sector with such innovative programmes in operation that are bringing new talent into rewarding and sustainable careers that will support UK infrastructure and its economy.


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