Skills Strategy – One Year Anniversary

The energy and utilities sector is responsible for the largest share of the UK infrastructure and construction pipeline, so its success is vital to the productivity and growth of the UK economy.

One Year On

Energy & Utility Skills is among 29 leading organisations – the Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership – that have developed the Workforce Renewal & Skills Strategy. Released in February 2017, the Skills Strategy is the first-ever coherent strategic plan for the continued delivery of clean water, waste removal, power and gas to 65 million people every day across Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland.


Challenges

The Skills Strategy is important due to the challenges the sector faces. Its ageing workforce means that within a decade almost 20% of its 500,000 employees could retire, and will need to be replaced. With a further 90,000 of the workforce set to move to other sectors and 31,000 new roles to be created, the sector will need to recruit 221,000 people by 2027 to have a sustainable and resilient workforce.

Many of these new recruits will need more advanced technical skills as the UK moves towards a smart energy system. However the sector is facing a further skills challenge: 36% of its vacancies are proving hard to fill due to a lack of skilled applicants. This is the highest percentage across all sectors in the UK; the average is 23%.

Addressing ethnicity balance is a key challenge for the sector. Of the workforce, just 6% are classified as black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) compared to 11% of the total UK workforce. Like many other engineering-led sectors, the workforce is dominated by white male employees. Across the sector’s employee base, 78% are male compared to the 53% UK average.


Achievements

The Skills Strategy has stimulated initiatives that are building sustainability and workforce resilience.

The Energy & Utilities Independent Assessment Service (EUIAS), gives sector apprentices the opportunity to demonstrate competence to work in safety-critical industries. EUIAS provides high-quality end-point assessment services for nine of the 11 new English standards in this sector.

Over 2,000 apprentices are currently undertaking an apprenticeship within energy and utilities organisations. A further 220 have already passed through the EUIAS end-point assessment service and taken up employment in the sector with leading companies such as E.ON, Electricity North West, Morrison Utility Services, Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks, Severn Trent Water and UK Power Networks.

The Skills Accord initiative is promoting structured and sustained investment in the technical and operational skills the sector needs most, through commitments in procurement practices.

It has been rolled out after a successful year-long pilot, during which lead partners – Skills Partnership members Amey, National Grid, SSE, Thames Water and UK Power Networks – cascaded the Skills Accord’s aims through their delivery partners and supply chain. The 26 companies that originally pledged to its commitments in the pilot year has now grown to 40 in its first year.

Through Talent Source Network, 20 of the Skills Partnership employers are offering hundreds of vacancies, including apprenticeships, on a shared online platform, alongside careers guidance and case study features on a diverse mix of new starters, recent recruits and senior professionals. Leveraging social media and targeted campaigns, TSN is engaging more diverse audiences and clearly showing achievable routes to progress from entry level roles all the way up to senior management. The 3,500 candidates registered on TSN include a higher proportion of women (33%) than the current workforce (20%).

The Skills Strategy’s calls to build sustainability and workforce resilience in the sector have since been recognised in policy:

  • Ofwat: Its Resilience in the Round publication (September 2017) recognises the skills an organisation needs to run its infrastructure are a vital part of resilience and states that ‘resilience in the round for the long term is a key focus in the 2019 price review.’
  • Infrastructure has been retained in the changes from the 10 Key Pillars in the Industrial Strategy Green Paper to the five ‘Foundations of Productivity’ in the companion White Paper. Skills is now contained within the People Foundation, increasing the share of the Industrial Strategy occupied by the issues raised within the Skills Strategy.
  • The White paper has also expanded its remit in addressing an ageing workforce, which is one of the key asks of the Skills Strategy. The Skills Strategy’s call for “explicit recognition of the importance of strategic workforce renewal,” was among its recommendations to central Government and regulators following its omission from the Green Paper.

Many leading organisations have supported the Skills Strategy, including:

  • Ofgem, Ofwat, The Drinking Water Inspectorate and Health and Safety Executive
  • GMB, Prospect, UNISON and Unite unions
  • Energy UK, the Energy Networks Association, Water UK, British Water and Future Water
  • IGEM, The Institute of Water and the Chartered Institute of Waste Management
  • CBI Scotland referenced The Skills Partnership’s positive action to address the skills challenge in its Pursuing Prosperity report. The Skills Partnership was invited by the Scottish government to offer external support and challenge to its STEM Strategy for Education and Training.

Progress

 

“We are proud of the progress that the Skills Partnership has made within the first year, but we are not content to rest on our laurels. More political and policy focus should be given to sectors like ours that contribute most to the UK’s productivity and economy.

“We are continuing to work with regulators, government ministers and other key stakeholders: the sector needs their support to ensure we grow the sector talent pool, enable the transferability of skills and reduce individual employer costs by working collaboratively.

“It is vital that this sector, which is of strategic importance to national productivity, receives the investment it needs to address the challenges it faces. This will stimulate good outcomes for our customers, colleagues, companies and communities, so it can only be good for the UK economy.”

Nick Ellins, Chief Executive of Energy and Utility Skills


Find Out More

The Workforce Renewal & Skills Strategy document is available as a free download.

Watch the Skills Strategy in Action in this video.

Read comments from senior leaders about the Skills Strategy here.

Join the dialogue on social media: search for #2020skills on Twitter

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