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In an article for The Herald, Mike Duncan, Director of Energy Skills Scotland, (right) explains why addressing the skills shortage is essential for the future of our energy industry.

We should be proud of Scotland’s energy sector.

We were one of the first countries in the world to harness electricity from our waters; at present Scotland boasts 25 percent of Europe's offshore wind resources; we hold an estimated 25 per cent of Europe's tidal energy potential and 10 percent of its wave energy potential.

The UK has an excellent track record in nurturing talent to develop our resources and export expertise, so our existing work force is world class. We have the technology, infrastructure, and resources – natural and fossil – beyond the vast majority of our European neighbours.

However, the context is now changing. Across all sub-sectors of our energy industry, debates are being had which strike to the heart of the future will look like. This ranges from restructuring within the oil and gas industry caused by the sharp decline in global prices, to plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations.

How best to foster the growth of the renewables sector is another key issue, and then there is the role played by emerging technologies such as carbon capture and storage. The increase in coverage devoted to all of these issues across our media reflects the growing importance which is placed on securing our future energy supply.

One key area of this debate affecting all energy sub-sectors is skills. Our existing workforce is aging, with new entrants not joining the sector quickly enough. Some reports suggest that 72 per cent of energy employers are having difficulty finding quality candidates to fill their positions. This has implications not just for energy sector firms. It impacts on our whole economy, but it does present opportunities as well as risks.

It’s essential that we encourage more young people - who are often more interested than they are credited for - to seek out careers in the energy sector with the objective of solving the on-going ‘trilemma’ of balancing carbon emissions, energy costs, and security of our energy supply.

Skills Development Scotland (SDS) is committed to working with all sub-sectors of the industry to ensure it can access the skills it needs in order to capitalise on future opportunities. 

This is lies at the heart of the refreshed Skills Investment Plan for Scotland’s Energy Sector, published last year.

Themes of the plan include encouraging more young to engage in the range of opportunities offered by the sector, developing pathways to allow more people to enter the sector, helping to ensure that education and training meets the needs of industry, improving the skills of the existing workforce and tackling the gender imbalance that currently exists.

Energy Skills Scotland works as part of SDS to further these themes, acting as a focal point for the industry to address its future skills needs. It ranges from encouraging more graduates to consider a career in the energy sector to encouraging more businesses to use Modern Apprenticeships as a way of developing future talent.

Considerable success has been achieved in this respect in recent times, and helping education and enterprise to work together lies at the heart of much of this success.

For example we have developed an Energy Skills Hub (right), piloted with schools in Fife, bringing together energy sector companies with school students, teachers and college lecturers to find out more about the skills required to work in the industry.

More schools are now coming on board and the model offers real potential in giving young people a broader and deeper understanding of the opportunities offered by the energy sector.

We have also been working with the Energy and Utility Skills Group on a project called “Employability Bites”which is delivered in schools, as part of the curriculum with the help of energy sector employers.

It helps school students develop their understanding of the real-world applications of what they learn in the classroom, enhancing their learning and introducing them to the skills and knowledge needed for working in the energy sector.

 

It’s only through working with younger generations that we can equip ourselves for the long-term challenges and opportunities presented by our immediate and future energy needs. That’s why we are proud to be partners in Glasgow Science Centre’s Powering the Future Exhibition.

This is one of the most ambitious exhibitions ever mounted in the UK tackling the public’s understanding of energy use, and it can play an important role in helping younger visitors in particular to consider what role they can play in meeting the country’s and indeed the world’s future energy requirements.

A recent pilot event at Prestwick Academy saw around 80 National 5 Physics students meet with staff from a range of disciplines at Scottish Power Energy Networks to hear about the work they do.

Find out more about the Powering the Future exhibition

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