Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 83

Supplementary evidence from the department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform following oral evidence session with Malcolm Wicks MP, Minister of State for Energy on 26 March 2008

  At the evidence session on 26 March the Committee indicated that they would like to have asked some questions on skills. The questions were subsequently passed to my officials. We have now considered these questions and the Government's response is set out below.

Q1—There is widespread concern at the skills shortages in the renewables sector. What steps is the Government taking to address this problem?

  Employers are increasingly able to influence the design and supply of skills through initiatives such as National Skills Academies, Apprenticeships, Train to Gain and Diplomas. The energy sector is developing effective skills strategies, with Academies in operation or under development for nuclear; oil and gas; process; and power. Although the development of a skills strategy for renewables is not so well advanced (due to the fragmented footprint of the industry) the other energy initiatives will produce transferable skills that can be used to support renewables deployment.

  There are emerging plans for a Skills Academy covering the environmental industries. Initially this is likely to cover waste management and facilities management and so will include waste to energy and energy systems in buildings.

  The Government is committed to increasing the numbers of young people choosing to study science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) post 16 to ensure that the UK has a skilled workforce to compete in the global economy and is continuing to work on delivery of its commitment to improve participation and attainment in STEM subjects. DIUS in particular supports initiatives to encourage children to find science interesting and to encourage the supply of science graduates into the UK workforce, for example DIUS funds the Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics Network (STEMNET) promoting STEM awareness and engagement among young people in schools and colleges and the highly successful Science and Engineering Ambassadors programme, which now has over 18,000 ambassadors who are supporting school activities, offering mentoring, career guidance and are positive role models

  DCSF has just announced £140 million of spending over the next three years to support the STEM agenda in schools which includes a communications campaign to promote STEM careers and measures to improve the teaching of STEM subjects by boosting investments in training of specialist science teachers.

  The Government is also committed to increasing the number of women in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) education and the workforce, a sector where they are considerably under-represented and which contributes directly to the skills shortage. Currently the UK economy is estimated to be losing many £millions because women with SET degrees do not enter or return to the SET sector, but this is hard to quantify. The low representation of women across all aspects, and at all levels, of SET employment suggests that there are barriers to recruitment, retention and progression, in both industry and academia. DIUS funds the UK Resource Centre for Women, which has a key role to play to help close the skills gap by working with SET businesses to help recruit and retain women with SET expertise.

  The Government is working with the Sector Skills Councils and other stakeholders to deliver the report on skills across the energy sector that was requested in the 2007 Energy White Paper. This will give the first sector-wide view and will set out the challenges to be faced as the ageing workforce approaches retirement and as new process and technologies are introduced. This will include recommendations for Government and will be published this summer.

Q2—The Royal Society Edinburgh suggested that establishing a Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme in the area of renewable energies might help address the skills gap. Is this something that the Government would consider?

  It is anticipated that as part of the growth of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs),

  as recommended by Lord Sainsbury in the Race to the Top, and as proposed in the Technology Strategy Board's soon to be published strategy, effort will be put into generating additional KTPs which aim to transfer renewable energy knowledge from the knowledge base into UK business, thereby increasing innovation and the spread of technical and business skills.

  Renewable energy technologies are one of the Board's key technology areas and during the period 2008-2010 it aims to encourage the flow of people and ideas to stimulate more innovative approaches to energy technologies by:

    —    Leveraging on centres of expertise in energy technologies supported by the Research Councils (eg SUPERGEN and TSEC consortia) in order to provide businesses with access to expertise.

    —    Investing in projects undertaken by academics to solve specific business problems, encouraging Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) in the Technology Strategy Board Energy generation and Supply priority areas.

    —    Exploring possibilities of international and business to business or business to science KTPs, to stimulate the flow of knowledge and people between UK leading players and international leaders in the defined priority areas.

Q3—In order to increase the number of skilled engineers in the UK, industry and academia are investing in the Power Academy. Do you believe that industry is best placed to drive the skills agenda or should the Government take the lead? What mechanisms are in place to ensure that the skills-related concerns of the renewables industry are heard by Government?

  Government and industry need to work in partnership Government is doing all it can to shape the skills system around the needs of its customers—employers and learners. But we believe that it is essential for employers to take the lead on skills development. Only employers are equipped to judge the numbers and precise levels of skills they require and, critically, to judge when they will be needed. Government is ill-equipped to make these judgements and could get it badly wrong. This is why we have created the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, putting the employer voice at the heart of the system. Reformed and re-licensed Sector Skills Councils will focus on raising employer investment, articulating the future skills needs of their sector, and ensuring that the supply of skills and qualifications is driven by employers. Employers involved in renewable energy can input skills concerns through their Sector Skills Councils.

  Through their SSCs, employers will have a leading role in the reform and development of vocational qualifications for their sector. And we are making it easier for employers to have their own training programmes nationally recognised and accredited.

  We are improving and expanding Train to Gain to help employers of all sizes and in all sectors to identify and address their skills needs; we expect our investment to rise to over El billion by 2010-11. We have published a detailed plan for the growth of Train to Gain, describing new flexibilities that we will introduce to the service to ensure it meets the needs of employers and employees.

Q4—Does the renewable energy industry warrant a Sector Skills Council? ff not, what processes are in place to ensure that its needs are met by the existing Councils?

  Employers define the sector a Sector Skills Council (SSC) represents. Sector Skills Councils cover in the region of 500,000 employees. Renewable energy sources are of increasing strategic and economic importance to employers in the energy sector. However, renewable energy has a complex footprint which overlaps other sectors, including the construction skills base, with its 2 million workers and large number of micro-businesses. Engaging such workers and employers, many of whom will only install renewable systems on an occasional basis, is a key challenge. Many companies specialising in renewables are small and difficult to engage in the skills and training agenda. Timing the supply of skills to match demand is also critical. While a case can be made for a renewables SSC, we believe that it would lack the support and backing of large, established employers and would struggle to make an impact.

  For this reason, we believe that the renewables sector is best covered by the existing SSCs, working together. The SSCs are required to identify and update skills needs and priorities through their Sector Skills Agreements. For Energy and Utility Skills and other relevant SSCs this would include analysis of any emerging skills requirements for the renewable energy workforce.

  A plan for a National Skills Academy for the environment is being developed and this will cover waste to energy and building systems. The electricity sector is also developing plans for an Academy, or comparable organisation, that will cover the network connections for renewables. These bodies can cover other renewable technologies when the need arises.

  I hope that these answers provide sufficient details, please let me know if you have any further points or need for clarification.

April 2008

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