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by Neil Evans
05 October 2012
The Thin Green Line

The Thin Green Line

From both north and south of the border, there have been prominent voices championing the idea of green growth – the Brave New World of a cleaner technology helping not just to make a healthier environment, but also driving the economy ever further away from financial crisis.

This growing focus on renewable energy, in whatever form it takes, has developed into a vision of a re-industrialisation of Scotland, with mighty off shore wind turbines and their ilk to stand alongside – and eventually replace – the oil and gas platforms dotted across the North Sea.

Investors are being enticed into the country by politicians and the latest subsidies available for renewable energy projects that have been set by Energy Minister Fergus Ewing, with the aim of encouraging more innovative ways of building turbines in the deep off shore water, as well as giving more security to other forms of creating power, like hydro.

In 2011 the amount of renewable electricity generated was 13,750 GW hours, enough to meet about 35 per cent of the country’s electricity needs – and 4 per cent above the Scottish Government’s target. The ultimate aim is to provide the equivalent of 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources.

The projection is that over the next 10 years, 34GW of off shore electricity will be installed.

Much is made of the natural advantage Scotland holds over other countries in terms of making its renewables industry work, with an abundance of wind, coastline and water – the country has 25 per cent of Europe’s off shore wind and tidal potential, about 10 per cent of its capacity for wave power and its largest off shore CO2 storage potential.

And yet to take full advantage of this, the challenge for everyone involved will be to make sure the people are there to run it.

Unemployment in Scotland, according to the most recent Office for National Statistics data, rose to 223,000 between May and July this year and the Scottish unemployment rate now stands at 8.2 per cent, but the burgeoning renewables industry requires ‘high-value’ employees, with a need for trained welders, engineers, divers and project managers, among others.

In his budget last month, John Swinney announced a £30m Green Economy and Skills package, which included £3.25m to create a new energy skills academy in an attempt to tackle this.

In March last year, Skills Development Scotland (SDS) helped to produce a Skills Investment Plan, that predicted a potential 40,000 jobs could be created by 2020 across all forms of renewable energy, out of a total 95,000 energy-related jobs. Other estimates have put the number of jobs as low as 35,000 and as high as 60,000. And, at the extreme end, a report from accountancy firm PwC even said that 120,000 new recruits could be needed for the combined oil and gas and renewables industries by 2022 – and called for the creation of an Aberdeen Energy Academy.

It has meant that there has had to be a concerted eff ort to ensure there is training available – and it has brought together the college and training sector, government and the private sector.

SDS is currently assessing the investment plan and what has been achieved since its launch.

Darah Zahran, Energy Manager at SDS, said signifi cant developments in the last year have been the clustering of Scotland’s colleges and the creation of a skills partnership on energy – meaning that they are no longer working as autonomous competitors. In addition, the Energy Technology Partnership has seen universities working together on research and development.

Zahran told Holyrood: “We’re not trying to create a workforce from scratch. We’re looking at the pipeline coming up through school leavers and graduates, that’s absolutely critical, but it’s not going to be enough if the potential of the industry is to be realised, it’s not going to be enough to wait for these medium to long-term solutions – we need to look at who is going to support the sector now.” Although there is a more obvious cross-over in many of the skills needed to fuel the renewables industry, the net is cast far wider. She said: “There’s some really strong technical operations and maintenance and engineering skills the whole way through the armed forces. People working in the automotive industry, or working in construction, all of these skills are going to be relevant in the energy sector.

“What we’re hearing is we need a lot of engineers in the energy sector, civil, marine, structural, mechanical – but we also need a lot of project managers, lots of welders, lots of technicians and divers.

“All of these people are placed in other sectors, so if they are looking to change career or are facing redundancy, we can capitalise on skills that are already out there and bring them in through fast-track programmes. A lot of our focus has been on transformational training.

“Scotland has a brilliant legacy of manufacturing, fabrication, technical engineering skills – let’s not lose that, let’s channel it where the jobs are.” Although there is a balance between incoming graduates and the number of retrained people that are needed, SDS said they don’t have a detailed idea of just what that will be, because so much depends on the future capacity of the different renewable sectors.

But Zahran adds: “What we’re looking at is how do we do both. How do we look at the transformational training that will meet jobs, skills shortages and skills gaps in job requirements now, but let’s keep an eye on the next five to 10 years, because we know that once planning consents and installations are done, there’s going to be a huge pull for operational and maintenance staff.

“We’re looking at Modern Apprenticeships now, who take maybe three or four years to get their competency levels up. We are looking at who can we get in now – who is already skilled – and who can we attract in the medium to long term when we expect the operations and maintenance demands will be high.” Since the launch of the plan, the Scottish Government has increased the number of Modern Apprenticeships specifically linked to the energy industry to 500 each year to 2014.

SDS has also included a specific section for energy on its My World of Work website, which gives careers advice and guidance.

Zahran says the main role for her organisation is to raise awareness, get people thinking about careers in energy and know what the opportunities are.

“There’s a huge amount of skills required both on and offshore. Everybody is fishing in the same talent pool, everybody is wanting the best engineering graduates. “Everybody is wanting the people with five years experience or 10 years experience who can come in and project manage, so there is an understanding that this is not sustainable as the industry expands, as the renewables industry expands, and the oil and gas industry continues at its pace,” she said.

“There is an understanding, certainly from the Scottish Government, from Skills Development Scotland, that we can’t neglect the needs of any one sector in terms of skills development.

“There are a lot of cross-cutting skills initiatives and themes that we can look at and the idea of putting together an ‘all-energy’ skills training base is one of the first steps towards that. People who are interested in energy can come in and see how all of the sectors have worked together to have a cohesive collaborative approach to information.” There has been an increase in the work undertaken to encourage youngsters to study STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) in schools. This has included providing more guidance material for teachers on the energy sector and the introduction of the Junior Saltire Prize, run in primary and secondary schools, with prize money awarded to spend on science and technology resources in the schools.

This encouragement at school level is seen as a key aspect as to whether or not the renewables boom can be fostered among students at college and university. Both FE and HE institutions are having to work conjointly, rather than competing against each other.

Steven Graham, executive director of the Technology and Innovation Centre at Strathclyde University, said regional clusters of colleges, in the process of being introduced, were helping with this type of collaboration.

“If you look at Strathclyde University, we’re looking at developing a pathway for kids to come out of school, go through further education, into higher education. That’s not always been easy.

“There are all sorts of mechanisms being looked at and what’s really encouraging is that further education colleges, higher education establishments like Strathclyde, Skills Development Scotland, are actually sitting in a room and talking about these things.” Strathclyde works with seven FE colleges across the Glasgow region, and although there has been pressure on their budgets, there has been a concentration on working together.

He said: “There’s been a consolidation in terms of them working more closely together in regional clusters.

“I guess what we’ve seen is a sharpening of the pencil to look at the portfolio of courses and making sure they are lined up with the priority sectors which the Scottish Government, UK Government and agencies like Scottish Enterprise and Skills Development Scotland are saying are going to be important for long-term sustainable economic growth.” This collaboration goes even wider, with the colleges and higher education sector working closely with the service sector like Wood Group and Technip, utility companies like SSE and Scottish Power and engineering and manufacturing firms.

Graham said: “These companies are all saying the same thing and are willing to collaborate with each other to make sure we’re all getting these things lined up to happen.

“That’s really encouraging, there’s not that standard internal strife seen in the past.” That partnership between the public and private sectors is also crucial. Darah Zahran said: “The emphasis is on working very closely with industry and that’s really starting to take shape.

“The public/private partnership is absolutely critical here. We can’t assume we know what industry is going to know what we want and industry can’t assume that the public sector are mind-readers.

“The Skills Investment Plan was about understanding what industry thinks is going to be happening in 2020. It’s trying to make informed decisions as far as anybody can tell, without a crystal ball.” She added: “The focus is changing, employers aren’t going to be adopting ultimately selfdefeating prophecies here, they understand the need to look at developing the sector, otherwise nobody is a winner, or the majority of people aren’t winners.

“The larger employers understand that they need to look at what is required for their whole supply chain too. One employer can’t do it on their own.” The renewables boom is often compared with what happened with oil and gas in Scotland.

The discovery of ‘Black Gold’ in the North Sea transformed the fortunes of Aberdeen in particular, which became a worldwide centre for the industry.

With renewables, however, a greater spread of centres as employment hubs is developing – rather than it being concentrated solely in one base. This varies from the 11-turbine European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre off the coast of Aberdeen, which has been proposed by a consortium of Vattenfall, Technip and the Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group – which would be a major testing site for the technology; Gamesa who have set up in Leith, and ScottishPower Renewables who have developments in both Dumfries and Galloway and Ayrshire.

“Even now,” says Zahran, “the oil and gas industry is very well centred in the north-east and Aberdeen, but not confined to it. I think renewables will be dependent on [where] the big installations are but also where the supply chain is.

“I don’t think there are geographical constraints, although there will be preferred points.” Of course, the green-skills agenda is not just about supporting renewable energy.

When energy bills are soaring – particularly after two harsh winters in Scotland – there has been an increased concentration on energy efficiency for homes and offices.

As well as the obvious benefit of reducing costs and taking people out of ‘fuel poverty’ – having to spend more than 10 per cent of their monthly income on heating their homes – environmental groups have pointed out this can create jobs too.

At a time when the construction industry is in need of support, the Scottish Government has launched a fund to help build the energyefficient homes of the future, with £10m available, half in grant and half in loans, which has been launched by groups including the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations.

In addition, a scheme like the UK Government’s Green Deal is also funding retrofitting schemes, providing better insulation and other measures for existing homes to improve their energy efficiency.

There have been a number of schemes set up aimed at increasing the number of trained people ready to work.

SDS has launched the Low Carbon Skills Fund, which gives Scottish businesses with up to 250 employees as much as £12,500 towards training costs.

The fund is for training in renewable energy disciplines, energy efficiency, waste management and reducing carbon in supply and energy management.

In August the Renewable Energy Skills Training Academy (TRESTA) was officially opened, operated by Steel Engineering at Westway Park in Renfrew.

A total of 60 apprentices will be trained during the academy’s first year, receiving tuition in skills including abrasive wheel work and welding.

Before that, the Nigg Skills Academy was launched in March, aiming to provide 3,000 Modern Apprenticeships by 2015. It is an example of how the public and private sectors have had to work together to create more skilled jobs.

Nigg has one of the world’s largest dry docks and was where many large offshore platforms were built at the height of the oil and gas boom in the North Sea. It had been barely used since 2002, but has been put back into use by the project after the venture from Global Energy Group.

It is starting to meet a skills gap in welding, a core skill in both manufacturing in oil and gas and renewables. It delivers a 12-week intensive course, giving its ‘students’ a proper taste of the industry – including arriving with the rest of the workforce for 8am starts and normal workday breaks.

It does not focus on younger candidates; 16 to 22 year olds are considered to be more suited to taking a Modern Apprenticeship fi rst because of the nature of the work and the potential dangers faced in the industry.

But other than that, there is a seemingly limitless scope on off er to the diff erent individuals coming through. Th ey have included 22 to 55 year olds, and ex-bricklayers, joiners, call-centre workers and post workers – all looking to retrain.

Alastair Kennedy, seconded from Global Energy Group to be chairman of the academy, said: “Th e problem has been over previous years is that the people here worked in the shipbuilding yards in their heyday in the 1970s.

Th ey’re all, like myself now, they’re all grey-heads and there hasn’t been enough trainees coming through the system.

“Your young welder that comes through the system will be a project manager and project engineer of the future.

“Where we are sitting in Nigg at the moment, the oil and gas is the here and now and the emerging renewables will come in two or three years’ time. When that comes in, there’s going to be an issue in relation to having the skills available to deliver the massive projects that are going to come everybody’s way on this. Th at’s why it’s vital that we address it now.” Of the people who have come through the academy so far, only two have been women, a commentary on what has always been a maledominated industry.

In 2007/08, 33.4 per cent of HE graduates in STEM disciplines were women. However, 70 per cent of female STEM graduates do not go into related industries after graduation. More than 80 per cent of the UK-wide engineering sector is male.

However, there has been a signifi cant movement as the new industry has evolved, to even up this statistic.

Women in Renewable Energy Scotland (WiRES) has been working to encourage more female professionals to target careers in the industry. It provides a forum for networking and support for female entrepreneurs, professionals and students, both already in, or considering a career in the industry.

It is a campaign with considerable momentum behind it. At a recent reception held at the Scottish Parliament, it attracted more than 150 women from across the sector.

Co-founder Gail Watt said: “There is an opportunity with the renewables market to act upon the lack of diversity in the workplace and strive for equality at an early stage, highlighting training and progression opportunities for all, whilst career pathway ‘doors’ are still open and not concreted into the traditional gender roles prevalent in more established industries.

“Research has proven that a diverse workforce is more innovative and more competitive and taking action to promote diversity is good for business and good for economic growth.

“By encouraging the participation of an underrepresented group in the workforce, we aim to contribute to the establishment of a modern and diverse renewable sector still in its infancy.” The plans for green growth have the support of many politicians. In addition to many warm words from across the Scottish Government, in Westminster too there is support for making the green revolution UK-wide.

Notwithstanding the debate going on within the Coalition Government, UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey told delegates at the Lib-Dem conference in Brighton that energy reforms would be the foundation of the low carbon economy.

He said: “Our reforms will unlock billions of private investment in energy produced here in the UK – wind, marine, solar, hydro, nuclear and carbon capture and storage.

“Be clear, our aim is nothing less than the world’s first-ever low carbon electricity market.

Moving Britain from dirty to clean electricity.” The task to find the trained staff over the next eight years and beyond is a large one. But Steven Graham says he is optimistic. “You can look at this in two ways, either as a glass half-full or a glass half-empty. Th ere is a tremendous opportunity.”

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