Upskilling the energy industry

With the energy sector to play an increasingly vital role as Northern Ireland transitions to a net zero economy, the Department for the Economy (DfE) has released a skills audit analysing the skills requirements in the Northern Ireland labour market to meet the needs of the energy sector.

In existing education, the report queries whether skills and training provision are sufficient and relevant to allow for a successful transition to existing and new jobs in the energy sector. “Effective pathways to competency are needed at all levels of the workforce – from entry level (level 2) through to higher skills levels; while the largest volume of skills demands will be at levels three and four in the education ladder,” the report asserts.

The report outlines the four key sectors within education and how they can all play their respective roles in upskilling the future labour market for the energy sector:

• Entry-level opportunities: “Programmes such as traineeships and the Skill Up programme offer a wide range entry level routes into selected industries and occupations and are crucial to ensuring that people of all capabilities and circumstances have the opportunity to enter meaningful employment. The reach of these programmes needs to be widened through targeted promotion and, potentially, incentives to ensure that the intended market is being reached. Furthermore, funding should be secured to allow these programmes to continue and expand as required.”

• Apprenticeships: “Apprenticeships are very well regarded by industry. However, sectoral partnerships should be tasked with reviewing what is currently available both in terms of range and content. In relation to the circular economy, all framework content should be reviewed to ensure sustainability and the materials lifecycle is a central theme. Furthermore, consideration should be given as to the remit of sectoral partnerships in terms of influencing all education and skills provision relating to their industry (e.g. Skill Up, traineeships, further education and higher education).”

• Further education: “The six further education colleges are highly regarded by employers in the green industries, but there is a view that current provision has a bias towards introductory/awareness courses rather than delivering a technically competent workforce.”

• Higher education: “The two main universities in Northern Ireland deliver a range of courses that fit well with the green industries. However, the concern that graduates lack industry experience is often cited and more needs to be done to facilitate this during their studies. Furthermore, few graduates actually enter employment in the green industries – whether this is due to graduates choosing other industries or due to a lack of demand from employers needs further investigation.”

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