94. Concern about the supply of skilled people is
at two levels: that which is energy or even technology-specific,
and that relates to scientists and engineers more generally. The
more general issue about the supply of scientists and engineers
was considered by Sir Gareth Roberts in his review published in
April 2002. Sir
Gareth found that there was a problem, with fewer people choosing
to study science and engineering, and one which was particularly
serious in the physical sciences. He identified a series of measures,
including increased payment to postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers.
95. In the course of this inquiry we have sought
to establish to what extent skills shortages are affecting energy
RD&D and the industry more generally. According to the Government,
the energy sector is skewed towards older people. Apart from the
more general issue about the supply of scientists and engineers,
it identified three reasons for this:
- the traditional routes of entryapprenticeships
or graduate traineeships with big employers such as the CEGB,
Gas Board, ICI etchave disappeared;
- the sector is perceived to be in decline and
is unpopular with young people;
- past recruitment moratoria have produced gaps
in the age structure.
The Government concludes that "current levels
of recruitment are a fraction of what is required to replace the
96. The problem has been most clearly identified
by the Tyndall Centre, which undertakes transdisciplinary research
into climate change. The Centre's Director, Professor Mike Hulme
has found, over the last two years, "difficulty in recruiting
suitably skilled and qualified researchers to work, particularly
on our energy related projects. This is not a problem that we
find in the environmental and social side of our research".
97. Among the measures being taken by the Government
are the retraining of redundant steel workers as gas installers
and the introduction of more modern apprenticeships. It also points
to the significant investment by the EPSRC in doctoral and masters
training in low/non-carbon energy.
We are puzzled by this latter point as the evidence submitted
by the EPSRC suggested a decline, not an increase in PhD studentships
in non-carbon energy. In 2001-02 there were 21 new studentships,
only half the figure in the preceding two years.
In response to our query, Dr Peter Hedges told us "The numbers
do vary a little bit and the indiction in the figures is that
numbers are going down. My guess is that if you had figures for
the following year they may be going up".
When the EPSRC supplied the project studentship figures for 2002-03,
we found that the figures had not gone up at all.
98. This is all the more curious since Dr David Lynn
from NERC described the skills issue as "something which
concerns all of us as research councils".
Professor O'Reilly told us "Skills is a very big issue. It
is a big issue for EPSRC and it is a lot of what we do. It is
certainly the case that we need to put a big focus on skills".
Of course postgraduate training is only one part of the solution
but we are disappointed to see so little commitment to it in the
past, the effects of which we are now seeing in the workplace.
We are slightly reassured to see the skills issue mentioned in
the Research Councils' submission on the proposed UK Energy Research
Centre as part of its role in building research capacity.
The Centre and Network could facilitate much of the "discipline
hopping" identified as being so important by Professor Hulme.
The proposed UK Energy Research Centre and Network should play
a crucial role in bringing forward the next generation of skilled
people for the energy sector. We recommend that it adopt this
as a key part of its mission.
99. The ERRG report recommended that UK public energy
RD&D investment was brought in line with its nearest EU competitors.
It would be deplorable if this aspiration were thwarted, not by
Government parsimony, but by the lack of people available to do
the job. In the 2002 Spending Review, the Government announced
an increase in the PhD stipend with above average rises in areas
where recruitment is difficult.
While lack of skilled people can hamper investment, it is equally
true that lack of investment limits the opportunities for training.
The BRE makes this point forcefully in relation to energy efficiency
technologies: "The under-funding by Government and its agencies
of this vital area of research has resulted in a chronic shortage
of appropriately qualified researchers and technology transfer
We recommend that the Government recognises low and non-carbon
energy as a shortage area, recognising its importance in combating
100. The problems faced by companies in recruiting
skilled people have been keenly felt by many of our witnesses:
- Dr Andrew Garrad: "We have recently been
advertising for people and we have received pretty well zero applicants
with any experience". As a result his company has been forced
to continue to do its own training in-house or recruit from overseas.
- Mr John Acton of Compact Power: "We are
particularly short of experienced and even at postgraduate level
chemical engineers and process engineers in particular".
- Dr Derrick Farthing from Powergen: "if we
want to recruit somebody with energy industry know-how, often
we find that there are any number of graduates, but there are
not the right graduates that actually have the knowledge that
101. There are signs that shortages in some skills
will prove an obstacle in achieving the Government's renewable
energy targets. Professor Robin Maclaren from Scottish Power identifies
it as something we need to address: "we have a fairly low
number of power engineering graduates come out and in research
and development as welland with the challenge that faces
us for renewables over the next 20/30 years I do think we need
to increase the output of technically capable people".
Professor Goran Strbac of UMIST highlighted skills as a problem
in connecting embedded generation to the grid, an important element
in increasing the input from renewable energy sources: "it
is now very clear that ... industry will find it difficult just
to continue business as usual, never mind the challenges which
we have got in front of us".
102. The larger energy companies are in a position
to tackle the problems themselves. Shell, which admits it let
things slip, has introduced a range of collaborations with universities.
It also helps to have an established name with a reputation, according
to Dr Martin Booth: " We are lucky in that we get some of
the best ones, particularly the pre-university students where
word gets around that we have a good scheme and that exposes them
to the sort of things we are doing in my particular area of transportation
fuels which helps to attract them".
Dr Bulkin agreed that Shell and BP were in a strong position but
pointed out that there was very strong competition for chemical
engineering graduates since it was a very demanding degree and
few students had the aptitude.
103. We are delighted that the picture in wave and
tidal power is more positive. Dr Tony Trapp from the Engineering
Business told us "Twelve per cent of our staff have PhDs
and another 10 per cent have first-class honours degrees... We
advertised recently and I think we got about 300 applicants out
of which we were able to select half a dozen people that we employed.
We work very closely with a number of universities, particularly
Newcastle University, and we take students on placements. We then
transfer them and they come and work for us. It works out well".
Young people are clearly attracted by the opportunity of working
in the sustainable energy industry.
104. The state of the nuclear sector, the uncertainty
over its future and the unpopularity of engineering and physical
science among students has led to concerns about the availability
of skilled people to the industry. The sector is likely to grow,
even without new-build, primarily in the clean-up area. Responding
to potential growth, without new build, and replacing people leaving
the sector on retirement means that the sector may need to recruit
1,000 graduates and 530 apprentices per year.
105. The DTI's nuclear skills report was published
in December 2002.
It found that 56,000 were employed in defence, power generation,
fuel cycle and clean up. It found that there was no immediate
problem in the energy sector but there was cause for concern.
Among its recommendations were that the industry should encourage
industry support of education, training and research and that
the Government should establish a Nuclear Skills Task Group to
forge collaboration between employers across the sector. BNFL,
in response to the dwindling nuclear skills base, set up University
Research Alliances which have created 140 positions in four universities.
BNFL's Dr Robin Clegg pointed out, however, that all these researchers
were working on safety and current systems. Mr Kevin Routledge
said NNC had been able to recruit all the graduates they needed
but that "there are a lot less science graduates around now
so everybody is scrambling for the same people. The other problem
is they are not coming out with any nuclear skills whatsoever
so we are having to do all the training in-house".
Dr Chris Anastasi said British Energy faced a similar problem:
"Last year we recruited 36 new graduates and it costs us
an enormous amount of money every year to train these staff".
It is hard to imagine the nuclear skills situation improving,
since the Energy White Paper has all but ruled out new nuclear
build. Even with no new nuclear build, nuclear engineers will
be needed for many years to come to deal with decommissioning
and storage but few graduates will be inspired to join an industry
in its death throes.
106. The situation with fusion is encouraging and
we hope that the transfer of the UK fusion budget to EPSRC will
further encourage the influx of skilled people necessary to maintain
the status of UK fusion research.
107. The Energy White Paper recognised that many
of the skills problems in energy are generic and reflect those
being experienced by the economy more generally.
There are no simple answers to the skills problem faced by many
parts of the energy sector but we are delighted that the Government
is at last showing signs of agreeing with us that the school science
curriculum is having a corrosive effect on our students' passion
for science. We
argued in our report on Science Education from 14 to 19 that science
education needed to be made more relevant. There are few better
examples of a subject that could enthuse our schoolchildren than
non-carbon energy, which has the power to tackle the potentially
catastrophic effects of climate change.
142 HM Treasury, SET for success: The supply of
people with science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills.
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Q 129 Back
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Ev 137 Back
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OST, The Science Budget 2003-04 to 2005-06, p 12 Back
Ev 135 Back
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Ev 20 Back
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