Northumbrian Water and Northern Powergrid have joined energy and utilities businesses from across the country to launch a strategy aimed at filling the sector’s future skills gap.

The energy and utilities sector requires 221,000 new recruits by 2027, in order to provide the essential services its customers seek and the infrastructure the UK needs for its economic growth. Industry leaders have come together, as the Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership, to build and launch the first ever joint Workforce Renewal and Skills Strategy for the sector.

Heidi Mottram, Chief Executive of Northumbrian Water, which is part of the Partnership, said: “Attracting people with the right skills to meet the future needs of the energy and utilities sector is a challenge we all face and the importance of taking collective action cannot be underestimated.  This strategy is a welcome development and a timely one.

“This is an exciting time, our industry offers a variety of fantastic career opportunities and, as we face future anticipated skills gaps and shortages we need to take action now to highlight the many opportunities on offer.”

Phil Jones, President and Chief Executive of Northern Powergrid, the region’s electricity distributor, said: “Put simply: attracting the significant number of skilled people that we need in our sector is a significant challenge – and there is strength in numbers. Being part of the Energy and Utilities Skills Partnership and supporting the Workforce Renewal and Skills Strategy gives both the energy industry – and Northern Powergrid – a platform to collectively address the long-term workforce challenges we face.  More broadly; businesses, regulators and government – local and central – must look for every opportunity to collaborate and find the right solutions. A concerted effort has to be the right answer.

“The strategy work highlights a number of key priorities that are not only relevant to our sector, but to the wider economy, for example the need to drive a significant increase in STEMs skills. Apart from mattering to businesses like ours, the lack of these skills could be a real brake on growth across the UK, not least in the part of the country we serve.”

The Strategy has been created to take the first steps towards ensuring that the UK’s vital energy and utilities sector retains a safe, skilled, resilient and sustainable workforce.  It sets out for the first time, in one place, the reality of the challenges faced, immediate initiatives that are underway and the ambitions the Skills Partnership shares in moving towards achieving a more sustainable future. This Strategy sets its immediate focus to 2020, and then will continue to evolve as the Skills Partnership and the wider industry colleagues work with key stakeholders, interest groups and other sectors to deliver an extensive programme of change and cooperation.

Heidi added: “Our sector is changing at a rapid pace. Innovation and emerging technologies are shaping new developments and new ways of delivering our service. Artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and digitisation are setting the agenda for change and we need people with the right skills to help us take advantage of these emerging opportunities.

“This also means ensuring we attract people from a range of diverse backgrounds, truly representative of the communities we serve.

“We are already taking action and looking at new ways of attracting and retaining talent. We have recently employed higher degree apprentices in information technology who gain vital work experience with us as they study part time for their degrees.   And it’s also about encouraging young people to consider careers in Science Technology Engineering and Maths and promoting the benefits of working in our sector, which is why we are out and about in schools talking to young people about water.

“The strategy marks the start of a journey to place our industry at the forefront of people’s minds when choosing careers and will prepare us for the future.”

Nick Ellins, the Chief Executive of Energy & Utility Skills, who will manage the Strategy on behalf of the energy and utilities industry, said “The National Infrastructure Plan is now widely recognised as forming the backbone of industrial strategy, and more than half (56%) of that plan is required to be delivered by the power, water, gas, wastewater and waste management industries. To date the accompanying infrastructure skills strategy has not explicitly recognised this critical contribution or done enough to ensure that the businesses involved have the right environment to ensure a sustainable and talented workforce exists.

“The Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership has come together to develop the first-ever workforce renewal and skills strategy, and construct a solid foundation for sector-wide collaboration.  This document begins the discussion, providing a framework that seeks to secure successful UK-wide skills provision through to 2020.

“The Skills Partnership now wishes to engage the whole industry in tackling the issues uncovered and work with central and devolved government, regulators and key interest groups to build initiatives that can address the skills challenge. By working together we can ensure a highly skilled, safe and productive workforce that ultimately invests directly back into society and our communities.”

Tony Cocker, Chief Executive of E.ON UK and Chair of the Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership, said: “Our sector touches the lives of almost everyone in the UK each day, providing essential services for our homes and businesses. In order to deliver and continually develop these services, we need a skilled and sustainable workforce that can help businesses supply the UK’s power, fresh drinking water, safe sanitation, recycling and much more.

“We face an ageing workforce, increasing competition for talent with unemployment reaching its lowest recorded levels and a lack of proficient skills leading to over a third of vacancies being hard-to-fill. Therefore, as a partnership we seek to be the catalyst for change, sharing an ambition to achieve a more sustainable future.

“It is key that businesses across our sector work together to raise the profile of the issues and recommendations outlined in the strategy and, ultimately, encourage and support more people, whatever their background, into training and long-term career opportunities in the energy and utilities industry.”

The Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership has already started to take action – including a commitment from 20 utility-based businesses to a new 12-month pilot programme that seeks to encourage people into industry careers and develop a significant future sector talent pool. The Talent Source Network aims to help employers access hard-to-reach and diverse individuals as well as encourage professionals who are looking for new opportunities or to retrain. Service leavers and those with transferable skills from adjacent sectors such as oil and gas will find the utility environment a natural home and are already a target audience of the pilot programme.” To find out more visit www.talentsourcenetwork.co.uk