Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Fifth Report



225. The deployment of renewable electricity-generation technologies relies on a supply-chain of suitably qualified personnel. However, a survey conducted by the Energy Research Partnership in 2007 identified a long-term decline in the numbers of "next generation" scientists and engineers available to support UK industry and academia.[228] Although this report focuses on the need to provide skilled personnel in the renewable electricity sector, we are keenly aware of the growing skills crisis across a broad spectrum of engineering disciplines.


226. Concerns over current skills shortages were highlighted in numerous submissions.[229] Rolls Royce Fuel Cell Systems (RRFCS) reported difficulties in recruiting suitably trained engineers within the UK, a problem shared by the marine industry[230], and the Institute of Physics described how developers are both recruiting personnel from overseas and investing in employer-led training in order to mitigate the impact of skills shortages.[231] The Institute of Engineering and Technology suggest that the shortage of 'home-grown' engineers is set to worsen:

    There is currently significant concern on the part of employers that the supply of skills will not be adequate or suitable in coming years to meet their demand for technical personnel. This concern extends to all levels of education and qualification, from technicians to experienced professional engineers and advanced researchers.[232]

227. There appear to be at least three underlying reasons for the current skills shortages. First, the engineering workforce has a rising age profile.[233] Second, and related to the first reason, the sector is seen to have a relatively unattractive image amongst young people and the pool of graduates is shrinking, and finally, although energy sector pay compares favourably in engineering, it is recognised that it does not have a competitive advantage over sectors recruiting from the same student supply chain, such as financial services.[234] Ravi Baga, EDF Energy, drew a parallel between the history of UK energy research and development and skills development:

    Post-privatisation in the early 1980s there was a significant downsizing within the industry and in that process a considerable amount of skills were lost. We are certainly facing an issue now in terms of the age profile of our workforce and we are putting a lot of investment into trying to bring new graduates and new apprenticeships through to try and have a transfer of skills.[235]

228. The publication of the Leitch Review of skills in 2006 heralded the Government's drive to increase the skills base in the UK population, a commitment welcomed by organisations such as the Energy Networks Association and RWE npower.[236] Given the current commitment to the skills agenda, we deem it is essential that Government engage with the renewables industry to ensure that the skills needs of developers are addressed. This is an area in which the Energy Research Partnership could play a central role.


229. The skills base of graduates depends primarily on the content of university courses. Nick Harrington, WaveHub, explained how the marine sector is encouraging greater business-university interaction in the South West:

230. We were pleased to hear that university and business are collaborating on a number of initiatives throughout the UK to mitigate the shortage of engineering skills. For example, David Smith, Energy Networks Association, described how industry and leading universities in the power-engineering field have invested in the Power Academy, a venture that offers scholarships to UK and EU engineering students.[238]


231. The National Skills Academy is a network of employer-led centres of excellence. Each centre aims to deliver the skills required by the corresponding sector of the community. There are currently centres for six sectors of the economy (construction, nuclear, fashion retail, financial services, food and drink manufacturing and manufacturing), with three further centres are about to launch (process industries, creative and cultural and hospitality).

232. We received a cross-section of views as to the potential value of a National Academy for the renewable energy industry. For example, the South East of England Development Agency advocated that consideration be given to a National Academy for Environmental Technology Skills[239], whereas the BWEA suggested that greater links be forged between industry, the National Skills Academy and Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) such as the Energy and Utility Skills Council and the SSC for construction (ConstructionSkills). We note that ConstructionSkills currently part-funds a training course for the installation of solar devices together with the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC).[240]

233. BERR informed us that plans for a National Skills Academy for the environment are being developed, as are plans for a National Skills Academy for the electricity sector. Due to the "complex footprint" of the renewable energy sector, however, the Government believes that, rather than developing a National Skills Academy in this area, the skills needs of the renewables industry are best addressed by the collaborative working of existing SSCs.[241]

234. We do not advocate the creation of a National Academy or Sector Skills Council in the Renewable Electricity Sector. Instead, we recommend that Sector Skills Councils, including the Energy and Utility Skills Council, ConstructionSkills and the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies, establish a cross council steering body to address skills deficits within the industry.


235. Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) is a programme that helps businesses improve their competitiveness through better use of the knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK. The programme enables a company to choose a partner from the UK knowledge base (a university or college, for example) in order to prepare a joint proposal for a project, or projects, to enhance their business. The partners submit an application for funding to the Technology Strategy Board, which approves proposals as appropriate.

236. Successful KTPs have been operating for many years and the 2008 Budget announced the Government's commitment to doubling the number of KTPs available. The potential for the KTP programme to contribute to the skills base of the renewable electricity sector was raised by the Royal Society of Edinburgh:

We recommend that a flagship Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme be established in the area of new and renewable energy systems

228   Ev 383 Back

229   Ev 72, 111, 112, 121, 133, 176, 179, 241, 313, 348, 346, 350, 355 Back

230   Ev 112, Renewables Advisory Board, Current status and implications for R&D funding and the Marine Renewables Deployment Fund, RAB (2007) 0182, January 2008  Back

231   Ev 72 Back

232   Ev 241 Back

233   Ev 111 Back

234   Ev 358 Back

235   Q 232 Back

236   Ev 133, 179 Back

237   Q 230 Back

238   Q 340 Back

239   Ev 350 Back

240   Ev 278 Back

241   Ev 386 Back

242   Ev 121 Back

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Prepared 19 June 2008