Urgent focus needed on upskilling for a managed and just transition

By Gordon McIntosh, Director, Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group

Scotland is an energy rich country and has the potential to become a global leader in green energy, but to achieve this status we must focus on upskilling the offshore energy workforce to ensure a managed and just transition of skills and experience.

It’s estimated that £170bn will be invested on capital and operating activities in the UK offshore energy sector between 2021 and 2030 including oil and gas, offshore wind, carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen.

The UK Offshore Energy Workforce Transferability review by Robert Gordon University (RGU) states that 200,000 people will be required to support the UK offshore energy sector by 2030. This compares to around 160,000 people employed in the sector in 2021, leaving a potential skills gap of approximately 40,000 people.

According to a pwc report, without an urgent focus on reskilling of the current and future workforce, low carbon energy generation will be constrained by significant shortages of skilled labour, which it says will be exacerbated by the fact that one fifth of people currently employed in the energy sector are set to retire by 2030 taking their expertise with them.

It’s not all doom and gloom as many of the skills and competencies for the offshore energy sector are highly interchangeable. This is especially relevant in the North East of Scotland where one in five people are employed by the offshore energy industry.

RGU’s Making the Switch report estimates that over 90% of the North East of Scotland’s existing oil and gas workforce have ‘medium’ to ‘high’ skills transferability to adjacent energy sectors. But that won’t meet all the requirements.

Last year, as part of an AREG-associated project for the Maritimes Energy Association of East Coast Canada, we examined the development of renewable skills in the North Sea, America, Europe, and the world, looking at best practice on every continent.

This highlighted an urgency to invest in skills development to capitalise on our position as an energy leader, particularly pertinent to the North-east as we transition away from fossil fuels.

This means investing now in the development of a skilled, agile, and adaptable workforce, capable of moving from oil and gas to renewables.

The renewable energy industry is currently worth £5.6 billion to the Scottish economy and supports more than 27,000 jobs. Research by Scottish Renewables shows that 89% of the supply chain see this as the largest economic opportunity for Scotland.

To capitalise on the opportunity, we need a joined-up approach with the Scottish and UK governments working together with industry, skills bodies, and academia to develop the training and skills needed to meet demand.

The National Energy Skills Accelerator (NESA) demonstrates collaboration across the academic community, industry, and skills bodies, enabling local universities and colleges to work effectively with the energy industry to promote, align and deliver skills development offerings and programmes. The initiative, established in 2021, includes RGU, the University of Aberdeen, North East Scotland College, Skills Development Scotland and Energy Transition Zone (ETZ).

With the rapid growth of UK offshore wind, set to reach 70 000 direct and indirect jobs by 2026, and hydrogen expected to follow, we must focus on areas with the most pressing skills’ shortages to meet demand in the short to medium-term.

The North Sea Transition Deal (NSTD), Integrated People and Skills Strategy, outlines the need to define future workforce skills and develop more aligned offshore energy standards, helping build cross-sector careers and facilitate transfer between sectors.

OPITO, the global skills organisation responsible for developing the strategy, proposed a digital skills passport to make it simple, visible, and fair for everyone in the industry. This will replace today’s fragmented approach and help identify specific training requirements.

We are seeing new models evolve such as not-for-profit skills initiative, X-Academy, which is creating green jobs now as it prepares people for the energy jobs of tomorrow through real life placements where they work on initiatives to support climate goals.

Programmes such as Fit 4 Offshore Renewables (F4OR), helping the UK supply chain prepare to bid for work in the offshore renewables sector, are having an impact. With 81 companies selected to complete the programme so far, we would like to see a broader range of programmes for our 280 plus AREG members.

Our mission is to support members to take advantage of renewable energy opportunities and we believe it’s essential to facilitate an open discussion on how people and companies can develop the skills to maximise the opportunities presented by INTOG and Scotwind, as well as those emerging in hydrogen, CCUS and other technologies.

To find out more or join AREG visit our website https://www.aberdeenrenewables.com

Get in touch

AREG is the original energy transition organisation, working on behalf of members to empower the energy supply chain and champion its expertise. Please get in touch if you have any questions or would like to find out more about membership.