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The success of the energy transition will depend on the ability to attract a highly-skilled workforce

While countries and companies are accelerating their clean energy investments, the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that the energy sector employed over 65 million people in 2019, equivalent to around 2 per cent of global employment. Out of this, over 50 per cent is employed in clean energy.

According to the first World Energy Employment report, released by the IEA in August 2022, low-carbon power generation, mainly solar and wind, employs 7.8 million people, on par with oil supply. Vehicle manufacturing employment, which stands at 13.6 million people globally, already employs 10 per cent of its workforce in the manufacture of EVs, their components and batteries.

However, the energy sector requires higher-skilled workers than other industries and the success of the energy transition will also depend on to what extent countries and companies worldwide can attract new qualified people.

Established industries such as nuclear, oil and gas typically offer the highest wages. Newer segments, such as solar, do not have the same labour protections and union representation as established fossil fuel industries, especially in emerging markets and developing economies. Furthermore, the percentage of women in the energy workforce is also consistently low when compared to economy-wide averages, with less than 15 per cent in senior management positions. As the IEA underlined, making growth in employment people-centred is key to global energy transitions. Maximising job quality helps to attract workers, including those moving from other parts of the energy sector.

In a recent commentary, Rystad Energy’s analyst Shradha Sood pointed out that as the demand for low-carbon energy developments increases, the availability of skilled labour in the sector presents a potential bottleneck.

“A shortage of skilled labour in the low-carbon sector could be looming, due primarily to the nature of these technologies and the scale of capacity growth required to meet targets,” she said.

In particular, according to her, alarm bells are already ringing for those looking for technical workers for offshore wind projects, as the Global Wind Energy Council estimates demand for 480,000 trained workers for the construction, installation and operation of installed wind capacity between 2021 and 2025, with only about 150,000 workers trained by the end of 2021.

Lithuania will need 2,500 additional energy specialists by 2030

Within Central and Eastern Europe, this might be the case in the Baltics, which are betting on offshore wind (among other types of renewable energy sources) to turn their economies into 100 per cent renewable-powered ones.

According to data from Lithuania’s renewable energy developer Ignitis Group and the state-owned group of energy transmission and exchange companies EPSO-G, the Baltic country will require at least 2,500 additional energy specialists by 2030 and around 1,500 of them will work on offshore projects.

As shown by the Association of Lithuanian Higher Education Institutions (LAMA), only around 5–10 per cent of students applying for engineering degrees are choosing energy studies. This clearly indicates that the demand for energy professionals in the future will be huge and the energy sector will become the new IT sector, where specialists will be in high demand, with companies competing for them.

“A couple of decades ago there was a breakthrough and a major shift in demand in the IT sector and now we are clearly seeing that the energy sector is taking over the role, and the demand for energy specialists will only grow in the coming decades,” said Mindaugas Keizeris, CEO at EPSO-G. “The energy sector is expanding rapidly and the specialists working in the field require, besides basic IT skills, knowledge about data management, artificial intelligence, machine learning and many more skills. The demand in Europe for renewable energy specialists is already growing by orders of magnitude and we are competing for them with the largest global energy companies.”

“It’s one thing to develop solar, onshore and offshore capacities for generating green energy and it’s entirely another thing to ensure that we have the necessary energy professionals,” added Živilė Skibarkienė, Management Board Member and Head of Group Organisational Development at Ignitis Group.

To tackle the challenges related to the demand for energy professionals, Ignitis Group and EPSO-G, together with the Ministry of Energy, started the #EnergySmartSTART programme last year, intended for schoolchildren, students and anyone who is interested in energy. Last year, they organised educational excursions, gave lectures at schools and granted scholarships and this year the financial support has doubled. Higher education institutions will receive 300,000 euros in total and will use the funds to grant 100 scholarships for first- and second-year students. Students will receive 300 euros per month for 10 months per year.

“We feel that it’s important to support the second-year students while continuing the practice of supporting first-years as we stand by our commitments voiced last year,” explained said Giedrė Žlibinienė, Head of the #EnergySmartSTART Programme. “Considering the energy transition acceleration and tendencies that are influenced by the development of onshore and offshore wind farms, hydrogen technologies and many other innovations, we must constantly remind ourselves that Lithuania and the entire region require a new generation of energy professionals, minds that are keen to act. As we are thinking about the future, we are investing in the people who will continue the work we’ve started.”

As underlined also by Rystad’s Ms Sood, offshore wind developments have synergies with upstream offshore oil and gas projects, a trait that might be helpful when the workforce will shift from one sector to another. This transferability of skills is also observable in other sectors like geothermal and CCUS which can benefit from the upstream and midstream sectors.

“However,” she noted, “upstream operators are likely to offer higher wages as a result of relatively high energy prices, so the fossil fuel industry remains attractive to workers as we move approach peak oil demand. Another source of potential relief could be increased automation in manufacturing processes, which can be realised with increased standardisation of components.”

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