Scotland has a huge opportunity to create tens of thousands of jobs in the green energy economy – but the skills system has to adapt quickly and flexibly to ensure the maximum number of people benefit from the shift. That’s one of the key messages in the latest podcast in The Scotsman’s Sustainable Scotland series, Green Skills: Two Little Words, One Massive Opportunity.
The podcast also hears a call for experts working in oil and gas to take the leap into green energy, which studies say could employ 50,000 people in Scotland.
Lauren Braidwood, National Energy Skills Accelerator Project Manager at Energy Transition Zone Ltd in Aberdeen, made the shift herself after nine years in oil and gas.
She said: “Over nine years, I witnessed a few ups and downs in the industry – more than one downturn. I was a lucky individual, not to lose my job, but it was very hard to watch colleagues and friends being made redundant and going through that anxiety and stress. So often they would say ‘What do I do next?’.
She added: “We had these super people with great skills, great capabilities, who wanted to be part of the energy industry but they didn’t see a future for themselves in it, and there was no clear route for them to follow.”
Many great people were lost from the energy industry, she says. Now the pathways into green energy are clearer and Lauren urges others to follow her and make the switch.
She explained: “As someone who took the leap, I can say from experience that taking that step, being courageous, can take you places that you might be pleasantly surprised about.”
Jenny Macdonald, Sector Development and Skills Planning Manager for the Oil and Gas Transition at Skills Development Scotland, empathises with Lauren’s experience.
She said: “It is really personal in a lot of regions. People know their brother, aunt or uncle is working in the sector and that there are big changes. Industry, government bodies and the skills system must make sure this is as planned as possible, that there are pathways and routes for people because regionslike the North-east have got great jobs that we need for this energy transition.”
Supporting people to make the shift means looking afresh at the skills system and offering a wider range of options.
She explained: “The old models of two or three-year courses are not going to work in this labour market that we’re facing, this accelerated change. There’s a role for them but we need to encourage a focus on upskilling and reskilling. The pandemic was a great example of provision being moved online and offering shorter courses.”
More than 50,000 jobs by 2030
Lauren highlights a report by Robert Gordon University called Making the Switch which predicts that the region’s offshore energy sector could support over 50,000 jobs by 2030.
Jenny says this represents a huge opportunity, but has to be communicatedhonestly and clearly to those who could benefit. What does that mean for people? When are they actually going to see these announcements turn into jobs?
Jenny said: “When we speak with industry, they’re gaining confidence and this is going to start ramping up jobs from about 2026 onwards. It’s only a few years away, but we have time to plan and it’s really critical that the skill systems and colleges, universities and apprenticeships all work closely with industry to plan for this.
Thousands of welders and cross-skilled workforce
“The energy transition isn’t going to be a linear process. New projects are going to come online all the time, so we need the workforce to be cross-skilled. They’ve got a core set of skills, but they’re able to work in a hydrogen project then back to oil and gas, a decarbonisation project and then maybe on to a wind project. That’s the way it is likely to go for the next 15 years or so, especially as we make this transition.”
Some traditional roles will also be needed, with Jenny stressing that thousands of welders will be needed for fabrication and welding work for new offshore wind turbines. She says we need adaptable skill sets.
Lauren quotes a review of the offshore energy workforce, which concluded that over 90% of the UK’s current oil and gas employees had medium to high skills; transferability skills; so they were well-placed to move into the green energy economy.
Jenny says many young people coming into the sector will need the skills but already have the mindset to work in a new industry: “We work very closely with employers, apprentices and young people. What comes through really strongly is that they want to support the change and contribute to a greener future.
“We’re all seeing the effects of heatwaves and the energy crisis, so there’s definitely an appetite for change – and a demand for the pace to be accelerated.”
Book your place
Skills Development Scotland is an event partner in Green Skills 2022.
Listen to the podcast here
To discover more about Scotland’s green skills future, book your place at The Scotsman’s Green Skills conference 2022 on October 4th here.