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Preparing for the transition to net-zero

Industry professionals are concerned that the shortage of skilled workers could hinder progress towards net zero. With the recent release of the UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy and plans for the first to carbon capture and storage sites, it is clear that the energy transition is in full swing. The report highlights several substantial commitments and policy actions influencing how the movement to net-zero will happen. 

Funding for the first carbon-capturing facilities, the East Coast Cluster and the HyNet in Liverpool Bay represent a vital part of the path towards decarbonisation. Industrial facilities need to reduce their carbon emissions by nearly two-thirds over the next 15 years if the UK intends to stay on track to reach net-zero by 2050. For the process industries, such as chemical and manufacturing, this entails introducing energy efficiency, fuel switching systems and carbon capturing and storage facilities.

While this may sound challenging, it also provides several commercial opportunities for engineering businesses. A study by Element Energy suggests that over £40 billion of revenues will be available in particular fields such as hydrogen production and fuel switching. The UK engineering services industry also has the skills and experience to implement and manage these projects. 

The engineering involved in chemical and oil refineries will have the necessary skills to transition into low-carbon projects. So, although the technology may be relatively new, many of the technical skills needed are readily available. The challenge isn’t necessarily based on skills but the sheer volume of skilled workers needed for these projects.

The Net Zero Strategy states that the energy transition will generate 190,000 jobs by 2025, and rise to a staggering 440,000 jobs by 2030, as demand increases with the development of additional CCUS and hydrogen facilities. Reports by the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) explain that the workforce reduced by 15% in 2021 compared to 2019 and is unlikely to recover until 2023.

The challenge of having a shortage of skilled workers and its influence on the progress towards net zero is impacted further by the decline in the number of students enrolled on a potential career in engineering. Furthermore, the age of the workforce stands at 38% over 50 years, with many due to retire shortly. Without recognising this imbalance, it means the UK could be more reliant on utilising and importing skilled professionals to fill the gap.

The other significant challenge in the workforce relates to adaptability. The transition to a new energy market will require professionals to work in new industries with limited practical experience.

People will need to develop the skills and knowledge on how these new technologies combine with existing facilities and meet new standards associated with energy storage, hydrogen and carbon. New talent will need the creativity and flexibility to adopt these new developments. Digital skills will become a priority, particularly in areas such as CO2 monitoring and leak detection. All of these changes require decisive action in terms of training and upskilling engineers to prepare for a transition to net zero. The latest UK budget includes a major boost in funding for new skills and training. These measures need to incorporating into policies that deliver the necessary changes.

Creating a skilled workforce for net-zero requires decisive action by industry and the UK government. While there has been clear progress, we must take further action in ensuring there are enough skilled engineers available to support the energy transition we require. Without this talent, the target we have created for net-zero will not be reached.

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