Skills for Energy Conference: Recruiting Women Could Help Overcome Skills Shortage (UK)
Shortage of skills is the biggest challenge facing the energy industry and a Norwich conference heard that recruiting more women could help resolve the problem.
The need to develop more expertise to cope with growing demand for engineers in the East of England was a constant theme throughout the People: Powering The Future conference held by the Skills for Energy partnership at the John Innes Conference Centre.
Specialist workshops for around 175 delegates also looked at how the image of energy engineering careers could be improved for young people – and for parents and teachers likely to influence them.
Larraine Boorman, managing director of oil & gas workforce development group Opito, called for the energy world to work together to deliver one clear message – for male and females – on the appeal of modern jobs in the energy engineering world, which many people mistakenly thought of as dirty and unattractive.
Of the 440,000 people in the UK employed in the sector, only 10% actually worked offshore and only 3.7% were female.
“When women do come in, the talent they bring is hugely valuable,” she said.
There was a need to find ways to attract women away from careers like fashion and media which were perceived as “more sexy”.
David Edwards, chief executive of ECITB (Engineering Construction Industry Training Board), was one of many speakers to emphasise the need for collaboration across the industry and innovative thinking about attracting people into engineering.
The ECITB launched its new Level 2 qualification at Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth College last year.
“It was developed to provide a stepping stone into future jobs and qualifications and will directly impact on the East of England helping to influence people to enter the industry and maintain the country’s current position as a significant energy hub,” he said.
Blair Ainslie, Skills for Energy chairman, spoke of the unprecedented demand for skilled workers in the industry even in times of austerity. It was a great career for life and featured roles from finance and design through to HR and logistics as well as offshore technicians.
He praised the work of the Energy Skills Foundation Programme, pioneered locally and being introduced nationwide, and the support of Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth Colleges and also the University of East Anglia which was on its way towards a full faculty for energy engineering. Recruiting skilled ex-military personnel was proving another great success.
Delegates were also told of the work of National Skills Academies for both Nuclear and Power in developing new talent.
But workshop sessions suggested that teachers, and particularly parents, remained the biggest influence on young people’s career choices and it was vital to give them a far better perception of the quality, attractiveness and rewards of work in the energy engineering sector.
Ian Robertson, HR/crewing manager for Seajacks UK, suggested it might take a culture change to prevent stereotyping, almost from infancy, which kept females away from engineering. It was seen too often and by too many as a male career option and the sector’s existing image was probably its biggest barrier.
Simon Gray, chief executive of the East of England Energy Group (EEEGR), said: “Anywhere you go around the world you hear Norfolk and Suffolk accents because of the energy sector and expertise we have here – and we need to keep developing that.”
Press release, July 9, 2013; Image: EEEGR