Recognising talent in renewables
Supporting and encouraging young talent is key for the sustainability of the renewable energy industry
Recent funding announcements, from the Scottish Government to the Green Investment Bank, have focused on the creation of new jobs as a major boon of investment in renewable energy.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the value of investing in the industry was “real jobs, clean electricity and valuable contracts for suppliers,” while UK Business Secretary Vince Cable said the Green Investment Bank, which will support a run-of-river hydro project based in Crianlarich by Green Highland Renewables as its first investment, “is at the heart of our industrial strategy, creating sustainable jobs and growth”.
However, the skills agenda remains an issue, and the whole energy sector, let alone the renewables industry, is struggling to attract talent.
In a lecture at the University of Strathclyde in February, Ignacio Galán, the chairman and chief executive officer of ScottishPower’s parent company Iberdrola, was upbeat about the country’s potential. “Scotland and Scottish engineers have a long history of leading the world in engineering innovation. Glasgow and Scotland are still leading the way in sectors like renewable energy, with multinational companies setting up here to tap-in to this stream of engineering talent,” he said.
Galán urged engineering students to “take up the challenge” offered by renewable energy.
He added: “With huge global investments to decarbonise the energy sector and modernise electricity grids, engineering graduates have a world of opportunities in front of them.
“Demand for good engineers is far greater than the supply and we are one of very few sectors offering lifelong career opportunities and employment”.
"Attracting the right calibre of new entrants with the required mix of skills is absolutely essential"
In November, Skills Development Scotland (SDS) named ScottishPower ‘Scotland’s Macro Employer of the Year’ at the Modern Apprentice of the Year awards. Rob Orr, Key Sector Manager for Energy, believes the potential in renewables could be huge. “With a strong growth record and access to vast natural resources, Scotland has huge potential for renewable energy, but if we are to realise that potential, attracting the right calibre of new entrants with the required mix of skills is absolutely essential,” he says.
Scottish Renewables has started a number of initiatives aimed at supporting and encouraging young professionals in the industry. These include a networking resource, a special part of the agenda at annual conference in March and the inaugural Young Professionals Green Energy Awards this May.
The initiatives are supported by SDS. “Offering recognition to the next generation of renewables professionals, and the opportunities for gaining experience and networking it entails, will put the sector in a better position to face up to the challenges of today and future years. For that reason, the Young Professionals Green Energy Awards is a positive and important step, providing the opportunity to highlight young professionals who are succeeding and thriving in the industry,” says Orr.
But why an awards ceremony, coming six months after the Scottish Green Energy awards? Scottish Renewables’ director of marketing Jillian McKenna says the idea can help both attract and retain talent. “It’s about highlighting renewables as a good career choice, an exciting industry to look to. It’s about emphasising the kind of exciting roles that are out there in the industry. It’s also about acknowledging the ambitious, driven people that are making a difference to the industry, who perhaps don’t usually get that recognition at the more senior events,” she says.
One individual who received that recognition at the Green Energy Awards was Robbie MacDonald of tidal turbine developer Nautricity, winner of the first ever ‘Rising Star’ award in November. Nautricity managers credit the success of their testing programme to the 26-year-old’s “hard work, original thought and drive”. MacDonald had “consistently risen to the challenges that have been presented to him” during the development of Nautricity’s CoRMaT tidal turbine, and displayed “great maturity in finding solutions to problems that are often outside his field of specialisation”, according to their submission.
MacDonald says he was “very happy” with his award. “It is a growing sector with a lot of young professionals doing some great work in various roles, so it was a real achievement to be awarded with the prize on the night, one I didn’t expect to win. Winning the award was a real boost to my confidence and has encouraged me to keep putting in the hard work to hopefully make my mark on this industry,” he says.
Creating a working environment which encourages development is also the purpose of the Young Professionals in Renewables Network, which Scottish Renewables formed alongside international law firm Pinsent Masons and BayWa.r.e renewable energy to provide a platform for networking and business engagement. Networking is also the idea behind the ‘Introduction to renewables’ stream at day one of annual conference, which will give individuals entering the industry the opportunity to network with some its most senior people.
There hasn’t been such a focus on young professionals in the industry before, says McKenna, and is key to the future of the industry.
“In this generation there’s so many passionate people helping move the industry forward, but everyone’s definitely thinking about the next generation of people who are going to be lined up to take that role forward. It’s important we motivate, encourage and attract really good talent and by doing these kind of initiatives, that’s the kind of message we want to get out.”
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