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Building a workforce for the future: the key to the energy transition

The UK is committed to decarbonising the electricity system in the 2030s and achieving net zero by 2050. But to achieve this, our grid will need to handle a huge influx of intermittent renewable energy, which it was not originally designed to do. Constraints on our national grid are already causing significant delays in connecting new renewable generation, costing consumers more in growing curtailment costs, and it is extending our reliance on predominantly gas-fired power stations. The transmission sector, responsible for the high-voltage movement of electricity across the UK, is on the front line of trying to urgently alleviate these constraints.

"If there is no workforce, there is no energy transition."

The generation side is only half the issue. At the same time, we are rapidly electrifying sources of demand with the move to EVs, heat pumps and more. This growth in electricity demand means we would need to create significant additional transmission capacity, even if we were not deploying renewables at pace. Whilst undoubtedly we can make better use of the grid we have, the scale of change means that if we don’t build a lot of new transmission capacity, and quickly, our energy system and carbon commitments will start to fail. It would lead to:

  • Increased grid instability: As demand for energy continues to increase, additional strain is placed on existing infrastructure. This could lead to more technical issues and, in extreme cases, blackouts.
  • Underutilised renewable energy: The UK's renewable energy, particularly wind and solar power, has been growing rapidly. However, if we cannot build adequate transmission capacity we cannot realise the full potential of these renewable resources.
  • Higher costs: Last year in the UK, approximately £1 billion was spent in curtailment costs[1] - with a study suggesting that this could increase to as much as £3.5 billion by 2030[2]. In an age of high inflation and increased cost of living, this is increasingly difficult for bill payers to afford.

The solution – finding the people to build new transmission Infrastructure

In many cases, the technology already exists to solve grid constraints. We can use smart grid technologies to improve the efficiency of our existing network and new energy storage solutions can help smooth out the peaks and troughs in supply and demand. We have these assets; we now need to deploy them quickly.

However, the unprecedented scale of electrification means that this can only be part of the solution. Ultimately, to remove constraints from the network completely, we will require significant additions to the existing grid.

Building transmission infrastructure is difficult and takes time. The supply chain is highly constrained due to the global race to electrify, the planning and consenting process is typically lengthy, and getting community buy-in to hosting this infrastructure is increasingly challenging.

To overcome all of this, it requires a highly skilled workforce, capable of delivering multi-£bn projects at pace, and at the scale we require. If there is no workforce, there is no energy transition.

Finding this workforce is both a challenge and an opportunity. In 2020, National Grid estimated that the UK would require approximately 400,000[3] roles to be filled in the energy sector for it to achieve its net zero ambitions. To put that number into context, it is nearly twice the size of the 220,000[4] jobs that exist in the UK Oil and Gas industry today. Whilst this umbrella figure includes other sectors such as distribution and generation, it is clear considerable progress needs to be made in the transmission sector to ensure that it has the workforce capacity to deliver the UK’s project pipeline. It also presents an opportunity for the UK to create many high-quality jobs across the country.

This workforce is needed now. With current timelines for transmission projects often extending up to 15 years, time is already against us, and we can’t wait for this workforce.

There are some simple changes we could make now, which would have a substantial impact:

  • Attracting talent: Bringing skilled professionals into the sector is vital. Many of the skills within the UK’s oil and gas industry are transferable across the energy sector and therefore, developing strong and targeted recruitment strategies, supported by long-term individual development and incentive plans, can achieve quick results.
  • Retaining talent: The transmission sector already has tens of thousands of highly skilled and capable workers. However, in the current digital and net zero age, competition for these individuals has increased, with other sectors offering attractive recruitment opportunities. We need to offer best-in-class training and incentives to our existing workforce to ensure they have long-term, fulfilling careers and ensure they don’t pursue careers elsewhere.
  • Reskilling and upskilling: We need to implement programmes to help workers from other industries transition to the green economy by acquiring new skills relevant to transmission projects. Encouraging ongoing professional development is also important to keep the current workforce updated with the latest advancements in technology and delivery practices.

We should also start now with actions that will help in the longer term and ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of the global green economy. This includes:

  • Education and training: We have to ensure that sufficient education and training programmes are available for young people who want to work in the transmission sector. Encouraging more students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from an early age, to build a foundation of technical skills. We can also promote vocational training and apprenticeships to provide practical skills for immediate employment​. Many companies already do this, but we can do more and move faster.
  • Industry and education collaboration: By fostering partnerships between businesses, universities, and technical colleges to align curricula with industry needs, we can ensure that graduates are job ready. Increased collaboration between industry and education institutes will support industry-led initiatives that offer training programmes and internships to provide hands-on experience and practical knowledge in real-world settings​.

At Oaklin, we are at the forefront of helping to deliver some of the world’s biggest transmission projects, which are the key to enabling renewable energy to be deployed at scale. If you would like to find out more about how we are supporting the energy transition, please get in touch.



Tom Evans

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Tom Evans

Tom is an Associate Partner with over a decade of experience in delivering large and complex IT and business change programmes, across a variety of clients and industries. His experience covers strategy, operating model design and technology delivery, and has most recently been applied in the energy sector where Tom has been supporting his clients in their net zero ambitions.