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Bridging the Skills Gap for a Smooth Transition to Clean Energy

September 26, 2016
By: 
Ernesto Icogo
Global Network Member
International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Learning Partnership
Volunteer
Canadian Science Policy Centre

 

Over the past few years, there has been a continuous upward trend in clean energy technological breakthroughs, an unimpeded downward trend in the price of solar panels, great leaps in innovative wind turbine technology and an acceptance of the green energy economy’s potential.

Recently, however, we have realized that there aren’t enough experts and skilled people to handle all the renewable and sustainable energy jobs, whether it be in planning, policy making, design, engineering, construction or maintenance. There is also an obvious lack of specialized training and appropriate courses in many parts of the world. So how do we bridge the skills gap in order to transition to clean energy?

There are several factors that contributed to the shortfall in skilled personnel:

  • The high rate of technology deployment

  • The high skill level required by roles in all subsectors of the green energy economy

  • The demographic changes and flat STEM graduate rates

  • The changing emphasis within the sector towards operation and maintenance

Bridging the skills gap will require more people become involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). However, the number of STEM students graduating from Canadian universities is either staying relatively constant or not increasing enough to meet the sector’s needs. In addition, with greater competition in the clean energy sector, demand for support staff and other skills, such as sales, marketing, administrative and policy development, will increase. Specialists within financial institutions who can understand and review proposals for renewable and clean energy developments will be required, as well as, many more teachers and trainers to scale-up clean and renewable energy sector education and training.

Some STEM subjects show an increase in graduates (Health and related sciences; Architecture, engineering and related technologies). However, most show little or no increase in graduates during the period 2000-11 (math, computer science, agriculture, natural resources, conservation, physical and life science).

Issues related to clean energy and climate change will have a direct effect on socio-political and economic aspects of Canadian society. Policy will play an important role in “bridging the gap” between current development in the clean energy sector and the lack of skilled manpower and professionals. But, how do we promote skills development through policy? The policy concerns can be summarized as follows:

  • The policy and regulatory environment have a significant influence on the number of renewable and clean energy jobs available and the required supply of skilled workers

  • Countries that experience sudden changes in policy (either the enactment or removal of policy) typically experience either shortages of adequate skills or an oversupply of labour

  • A stable and long-term renewable energy policy is needed to support skills development and well-planned education and training strategies

  • Both quantitative and qualitative research is necessary to effectively project skills needs and target areas for training and skills development

In support of the policy, certain specific courses of action must be considered and implemented:

  • Improve core STEM skills available to the industry: Canadian higher education institutions and technical schools should develop highly-specialized curricula catering to the clean and renewable energy sector. Standardisation and accreditation of qualification needs should be taken into account. Harmonised curricula and qualifications across the country can be helpful in reducing the time needed to react to the market signals and facilitate mobility of students and workers.

  • Harmonize and standardize vocational training and education at the national level: Common quality standards make it possible to evaluate training programmes in an accreditation process against a set of defined requirements for competency, quality management, required resources and qualification.

  • Expand the cohort of graduate-level energy specialists: The industry needs high level specialists to deal with its mature technologies and new innovations. Research and development energy scientists will play an important role in ensuring the successful transition to clean energy from older energy infrastructures. Competent engineers and technical people will implement and maintain these new clean energy projects.

  • Increase the emphasis on operations and maintenance training: There is an inherent difference between classroom theory and on-site practice. Jobsite operations and maintenance need to integrate all components of project management and implementation. As a consequence, workers must know how to define and design the project, compile and analyze the project data and implement all of the necessary procedures using standardized manuals.

  • Get the benefits of industry experience into training and education institutions: Practical industry experience should be integrated into the classrooms of training and education institutions. This gives students the necessary experience in identifying loopholes and flaws in the design and implementation methods in order to avoid costly mistakes, bring out new ideas, and improve efficiency.

  • From a business point of view, adapt and implement innovative methods on how to select, train, and maintain employees: Recruitment and human resource (HR) development is one of the key drivers for future success. As well, many of the skills needed in this sector require highly-skilled individuals with strong managerial capabilities.

From a young age, children should be encouraged to pursue STEM careers. A national master plan on how to improve STEM education at all levels (kindergarten to graduate level) should be devised, developed, funded and implemented. And, most importantly, it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

There must be an effort to raise awareness of the benefits of clean energy to the economy and general health, as well as its impact on climate change. Canada’s federal, provincial and municipal governments should launch a comprehensive information campaign using all available communication methods (social, print and broadcast media) to reach this goal.

There is no time for complacency. If Canada wants to be a world leader in climate change mitigation and adaptation, it needs to make sure it has the necessary skilled workers.

 

 

For a webinar on this topic from the Clean Energy Solutions Center click here.

To learn more about the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) click here.

 

The author thanks Kim Morris for editorial assistance.