Northern Gas Networks, Northern Powergrid and Northumbrian Water are among UK firms that have benefited from an initiative that has stimulated investment in skills across utilities.
The Energy & Utilities Workforce Renewal and Skills Strategy, which marks its first anniversary on 9 February, has also helped address skill shortages and drive digital collaboration to appeal to new audiences.
Published on 9 February 2017, the strategy outlines how energy and utilities support UK infrastructure by developing a resilient and sustainable workforce. The combined sector accounts for the greatest share of the Government′s National Infrastructure Pipeline.
The Skills Strategy was developed by the Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership, a collaboration of 29 leading sector employers which formed in summer 2016.
Heidi Mottram, Northumbrian Water Group Chief Executive, said: "Just as we always aim to deliver unrivalled customer service, we continue to look for new ways to ensure that Northumbrian Water Group is a great place to work, whether that is for existing employees or for new people coming into the business.
"We are continually planning for the future, in terms of delivering the best possible service and ensuring we have the right people in place to continue to do that for years to come. Working together as part of the Skills Strategy means we have even greater opportunities to promote what a fantastic sector it is for building a career."
Phil Jones, President and Chief Executive of Northern Powergrid, the company responsible for the region′s power network, said: "Since last year we′ve recruited 68 apprentices and trainee engineers taking our total recruits above 250 over the last five years. The Talent Source Network has also proven an important tool in helping companies source and retain quality candidates in our industry. Last year in addition to filling our own vacancies we referred more than 200 people to the Network, opening the door for candidates for opportunities with our industry partners and helping to keep skilled people engaged in the industry.
"We see the Skills Strategy as part of the way we will continue to attract and retain a skilled, diverse workforce that can contribute to the region′s growth as part of the Northern Powerhouse."
Mark Horsley, Chief Executive of Northern Gas Networks, which is part of the partnership, said:
"We′re pleased to be part of the Energy and Utilities Skills Partnership as it marks the first anniversary of the Skills Strategy. At Northern Gas Networks (NGN) talented people are the lifeblood of our business and we′re continually investing in our colleagues to help us be the world-beating business we aspire to be. We′re committed to helping young job seekers to get off to a flying start and our apprentice schemes have seen us create opportunities for over 130 apprentices, kick starting careers in everything from engineering to communications.
"As a major employer in the North of England we have a responsibility to support young people in the communities where we work. That′s why we deliver a range of employability and education programmes for students of all ages, focusing strongly on under-represented STEM subjects, to inspire and educate about opportunities in the energy sector while helping to shape a workforce for the future."
Among the initiatives currently having a significant impact is the Energy & Utilities Independent Assessment Service (EUIAS), which gives sector apprentices the opportunity to demonstrate competence to work in safety-critical industries. Over 2,000 apprentices are currently undertaking an apprenticeship within energy and utilities organisations, with Northumbrian Water and Northern Powergrid currently supporting 100+ apprenticeships with more to follow.
The Skills Accord is another initiative. It promotes structured sustained investment in skills the sector needs most, through commitments in procurement practices.
Through Talent Source Network, 20 Skills Partnership employers are offering hundreds of vacancies, including apprenticeships, on a shared online platform, alongside careers guidance and case study features on a diverse mix of new starters, recent recruits and senior professionals. Using social media and targeted campaigns, TSN engages with more audiences helping recruit everything from entry level roles all the way up to senior management.
The Skills Strategy′s calls to build sustainability and workforce resilience are also being recognised in policy:
• Ofwat: Its Resilience in the Round publication (September 2017) recognises the skills an organisation needs to run its infrastructure are a vital part of resilience and states that ‘resilience in the round for the long term is a key focus in the 2019 price review.′
• Infrastructure has been retained in the changes from the 10 Key Pillars in the Industrial Strategy Green Paper to the five ‘Foundations of Productivity′ in the companion White Paper.
• The White paper has also expanded its remit in addressing an ageing workforce, which is one of the key asks of the Skills Strategy. The Skills Strategy′s call for "explicit recognition of the importance of strategic workforce renewal," was among its recommendations to central Government following its Green Paper omission.
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* Across energy and utilities, 36% of all vacancies are due to skills shortages - the highest proportion of any sector. The national average is 23%.
** The Skills Strategy reported that the sector will need to fill close to 221,000 roles by 2027. This is because 100,000 of the sector′s near-500,000 UK workforce will retire; also that around 90,000 people will move to other roles and 31,000 new jobs will be created. The failure to source competent replacements in these safety critical industries could have major implications for the 65 million people who rely on these services every day.
The Skills Strategy also found that the sector′s workforce:
• is overwhelmingly male:
o Gas: 86%
o Power: 78%
o Waste Management: 83%
o Water: 73%
• employs low proportions of people from Black, Asian and other minority groups:
o Gas: 4%
o Power: 5%
o Waste Management: 5%
o Water: 5%
*** This announcement was made in November 2017 during the Skills Summit by then-Education Secretary Justine Greening.
**** All of the quotes supporting the Skills Strategy are available at euskills.co.uk/key-documents
Northern Powergrid is the electricity network operator responsible for delivering power safely and reliably to 8 million customers across 3.9 million homes and businesses in the North East, Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire. Its network consists of more than 63,000 substations and 60,000 miles of overhead power lines and underground cables, spanning some 9,650 square miles.
Northumbrian Water Limited supplies 2.7 million customers in the North East with both water and sewerage services, trading as Northumbrian Water, and 1.8 million customers in the South East with water services, trading as Essex & Suffolk Water.
In the most recent survey by the Consumer Council for Water, Northumbrian Water was named the UK′s most trusted water company by its customers. 2017 also saw Northumbrian Water named the world′s most ethical water company for the seventh successive year and Utility of the Year at the Utility Week Awards.