Green Skills Conference: Ensuring Scotland is at the vanguard of the green revolution

People looking for jobs and careers in the green economy must be given practical advice about what skills they need, and where to get them, The Scotsman’s Green Skills conference heard.

Christine Currie, head of skills policy at global energy training provider Opito, told the event there is “an incredible change” coming in the energy world – and that there is a big job to do to be ready for it.

“How are we going to support the workforce that we need in the future?”, she asked. “How are we actually going to make that happen? We’re going to have to work together, it’s going to involve input from everybody.”

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Currie explained that Opito is developing a skills passport to help people understand how they can move across the sub-sectors of the energy industry. She said: “It’s not just a one-way street, but back and forwards. How can they move between, for example, oil and gas, wind – fixed and floating turbine – carbon capture and storage, hydrogen? How can we actually make that happen?

Speakers cornered at last week’s conference: Anna Bell from Fuel Change; Lauren Braidwood, manager of the National Energy Skills Accelerator project; Offshore Energies UK’s Emily Taylor; Melanie Hill from ScottishPower, and Christine Currie, head of skills policy at Opito. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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“The skills passport reflects the need for the different types of skills we’re going to need in the future. The scale of the transition in energy will have a substantial impact on the labour market, so we need to help people to understand how they can transition.

“It’s helping people currently in the offshore workforce understand how to move across into the renewable spaces where we anticipate that about 90 per cent of skills are transferable. So there’s a huge opportunity there to repurpose all the fantastic skills that we have in the industry.

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“It’s not just about ‘There are going to be lots of jobs’, it’s about the practical steps people need to get into this space,” she said.

Currie used a practical example: “If you are an electrical technician in oil and gas, and want to work in the wind industry, what does that actually mean in terms of what’s recognised in terms of your skills, competencies and qualifications? If there are potentially gaps, what top-up training might be needed and where do you get it? It’s about the whole picture.”

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Lauren Braidwood, project manager of the National Energy Skills Accelerator, part of the Energy Transition Zone organisation in Aberdeen, explained her role in linking up academic institutions and industry to ensure future skills needs were met.

“We work with industry to try and understand the skills that they’re going to need now in future, and then ask: Where are the gaps? What skills do we have? How are we going to fill those?”

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It would then be a case of looking at the range of options to fill those gaps, Braidwood added: “It’s about universities, colleges, vocational training, upskilling and reskilling

“Young people are obviously really important. For many years, we have had issues, getting enough people interested in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] and into STEM jobs. So we also want to work with students at secondary schools to try and really showcase the jobs and demonstrate the career paths people can take.

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“We are looking at maybe creating new training and delivery methods, and to really try and increase accessibility.”

Braidwood said the role of industry in all of this is crucial: “The future needs to be industry-driven. There is no point in training a bunch of fantastic people to find that jobs aren’t ready for five years, when they have bills to pay.

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“And there’s no point having them ready five years too late, when the jobs that have gone elsewhere.”

Braidwood called on industry and academia not to duplicate training programmes, but to collaborate and draw on existing high-quality provision: “There’s no point, in my mind, in reinventing the wheel if there’s a really good wheel already there – just ask if you can use it.

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“It doesn’t make sense to have one training provider doing one thing, and then another one being onyour skills passport. It’s about acknowledging and recognising that something is good, and valuable, and utilising it. You might say: ‘That’s great for that institution and that’s great for that institution.’ Industry says: ‘Both of them are great, let’s put them together!’”

Anna Bell, project co-ordinator with the Scottish Government-backed campaign group Fuel Change, said that her organisation’s programmes involved teams of four to six young people “coming together to find a solution to real life sustainability challenges that are genuinely faced by industry”.

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The aim was to tackle a range of challenges: “How do we achieve our net-zero targets, engage the younger generation in issues surrounding climate change, and unlock their hidden genius?

“And the programme is not just about finding brilliant solutions, it’s about skills development.”

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Fuel Change has already worked with 80 organisations and 1,000 young people in its first two years of operation.

Melanie Hill, director of social projects and sector education at ScottishPower, told the conference crowd that her company takes a workforce-wide approach to green skills, from graduates and apprentices to existing employees, and from the engineering side of the business to all other parts of the energy firm.

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She said: “There’s a lot of time and effort going into trying to define what is a green job. You can define it in tight terms, when in actual fact what we’re looking at is all our jobs are green jobs.

“We have all the technical and engineering work we need around all the new wind farms, but we still have our network – the pipes underground and overhead wires – that has been around for 40 years, and still needs to be maintained and modernised.

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“Does that mean that the young apprentice that’s learning how to do that is not in a green job? I don’t think so. I think they are there to make sure that we continue to do what we do, but also go on to develop new technologies. And it’s also about how contracts are written, for our supply chain, and about our procurement practices. I use an inclusive green job definition.”

Anna Bell warned that young people could be put off by the term “green job”, and said many were not engaged with thinking about climate change.

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She explained: “The mainstream young people that we engage with just want to live the best life they can. If they are told the world’s on fire, they think the government will deal with it, or their boss.

“Fuel Change is about long-term engagement to encourage behavioural change, so that these people understand that having a positive attitude towards climate change and also the opportunity that includes, in terms of employment and new opportunities. That’s why the programme is 16 weeks long, or when it’s in school, it’s over a year in academic year; it’s not just a ‘one and done’.

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“We had one Fuel Change participant from Ineos who wasn’t sure why he was there – but he went through the programme and is now one of our biggest advocates. He saw climate change as the enemy [of the oil and gas industry], but now he sees the opportunities – he can see how his industry can transition and why his skills are relevant.”