Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum 8

Submission from Energy & Utility Skills



  2.1  Energy & Utility Skills is the Sector Skills Council for the electricity, gas, waste management and water industries. Employer-led, our purpose is to ensure that energy and utility businesses have the skills needed to efficiently meet their business aspirations. With some 528,000 employees, the energy & utilities sector is of vital strategic importance to the UK.

2.2  Our sector faces advancing technology, rapid change, global competition and rising expectations of choice. The skills of our people and their continuing development, are crucially important to employers and employees.

2.3  Four strategic objectives drive our approach to delivering on our purpose: act as a catalyst in developing a sustainable skills market; use productive relationships to influence stakeholder policy development; deliver industry standards and qualifications, market intelligence and strategic skills foresight; and be a high performing sustainable business.

2.4  Our work on our Sector Skills Agreement (SSA) has reinforced our purpose and given us a strong platform to further develop and deliver skills solutions for the sector. We are currently taking forward the key skills issues identified in our SSA. We have also developed a Sector Qualification Strategy (SQS) and will begin implementing this during 2008. Our research programme will ensure that EU Skills is an authoritative source of foresight, labour market and supply side information and intelligence.

  2.5  We work with central government and the governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to both influence and respond to the skills strategies for each nation, in order to meet the skills needs of our sector. We also operate in each of the English regions.

  2.6  EU Skills welcomes the opportunity to respond to the IUSS Committee Inquiry on putting science and engineering at the heart of government policy as this is a critical issue for us. We have a well established, and comprehensive, network of employers, who are engaged through regular contact by our national and regional Skills Directors and industry leads. We also have well established high level employer strategy groups and workgroups for each of the four industries in our footprint. This response has been compiled using feedback from our employer networks and comments have also been invited via our website. We have detailed our response below.


  3.1  The IUSS Committee has invited feedback on the following points:

    —  Whether the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Science and Innovation and the Council for Science and Technology put science and engineering at the heart of policy-making and whether there should be a Department for Science;

    —  How Government formulates science and engineering policy (strengths and weaknesses of the current system);

    —  Whether the views of the science and engineering community are, or should be, central to the formulation of government policy, and how the success of any consultation is assessed;

    —  The case for a regional science policy (versus national science policy) and whether the Haldane principle needs updating;

    —  Engaging the public and increasing public confidence in science and engineering policy;

    —  The role of GO-Science, DIUS and other Government departments, charities, learned societies, Regional Development Agencies, industry and other stakeholders in determining UK science and engineering policy;

    —  How government science and engineering policy should be scrutinised;

  3.2  Engineering and science skills are critical to the development and success of our sector. They are also critical to the economic success of the UK. We face many challenges in ensuring that our sector has the right skills to develop, compete and advance over the next 20 years.

  3.3  We are convinced that action needs to be taken to address the skills challenges we face over the next 20 years in order that the industries within our sector can transform. The industries themselves have a history of developing their workforces and industry collaboration has resulted in successful developments such as the Power Academy, a recently announced NSA for Power and a Water Skills Action Plan (driven by industry collaborations PSSSG and WISSG[24]). However, government action is now required to establish science and engineering policies that will act as a catalyst and stimulate a focus on skills development.

  3.4  The commitments to developing a low carbon economy, greener energy sector and meeting climate change targets means our sector needs to reflect its changing environment and develop and implement new technologies. Alongside this requirement, there is a need to build new energy infrastructure to replace old nuclear and coal-fired power stations that are due to be decommissioned. The recent Business and Enterprise Committee report[25] on energy policy estimated a huge investment will be required to rebuild our energy infrastructure.

  3.5  In addition, the sector has an ageing workforce and is faced with a declining number of young people entering the workforce. There is low interest in science and engineering subjects at school and international competition for science and engineering skills. This means that suitable candidates for skilled roles, such as those that are central to establishing continued improvements in productivity to meet the requirements sought by the economic regulators, are scarce. Work is needed to ensure that the sector is perceived as an attractive career choice for young people and those from non-traditional employment pools.

  3.6  There is good evidence to suggest that those who come to work for the sector stay for significantly longer than the UK average. This suggests that, if the challenge of getting candidates across the doorstep can be addressed, our sector will be able to meet the upskilling challenge needed by its workforce to meet the challenges ahead.

  3.7  We are less convinced, however, of the need to establish a separate Department for Science. Skills policy needs to be much better coordinated across the UK, between government departments and agencies and across national and regional boundaries. The feedback from our employers is that the skills environment remains confusing in relation to policy formulation and delivery and the multiplicity of initiatives and funding arrangements. This complexity has been acknowledged in the recently published UKCES document Simplification of Skills in England.[26]

  3.8  At the moment, education and skills responsibility is split across two Government departments in England: DIUS and DCSF. The Scottish Government, the Assemblies in Northern Ireland and Wales have devolved responsibility for policy in relation to education and skills. DWP also has a role to play in the skills agenda. Our sector also links to the responsibilities of DECC and Defra. We welcome the creation of DECC bringing together responsibility for climate change and energy policy and are keen to support the sharp focus that this will bring to energy policy. However, we believe that, for skills issued to be addressed, a joining up of approaches across government is critical and the creation of a further government department could potentially create more complexity. It is important that all government departments involved in the energy and utilities sector have a shared vision for skills development across the sector.

  3.9  We believe that employer involvement should be central to the formulation of science and engineering policy. The voice of employers on science and engineering skills can be accessed through the Sector Skills Councils. We are a member of the Science Cluster of SSCs that is led by SEMTA.

  3.10  The work on our Sector Skills Agreement[27] and ongoing feedback from our industry groups illustrates a desire from our employers to get closer to policy formulation and also skills delivery, based on a robust national strategy for skills development for each industry. Our employers believe there needs to be a stronger link between their views and understanding of their industries and government policy and decision making. We also feel that any regionally driven policy and or initiatives should be linked into regional employer networks who, in turn, should be aligned and linked to national sector and industry strategies.

  3.11  We have achieved high profile successes for our sector, based on industry collaboration. Our successes include:

    —  Delivering a three year Ambition Energy programme that enabled over 2000 unemployed people to enter a long term sustainable career within the energy sector. Over 85% were still in employment six months later;

    —  Designing an implementing a workforce planning tool that enables individual companies to forecast their skills needs over the next 15 years;

    —  Transforming £1.6 million of ESF funding into a £72 million investment in skills development by Ofgem;

    —  Driving employer support and investment of over £750,000 for a National Skills Academy for Power that was announced in September 2008.

  We are working with our industry groups to address many more of the challenges the sector faces and ask that a coordinated government approach to science and engineering policy focuses on employer involvement. This means a policy that is developed through active involvement of employers whilst ensuring that the diverse number of bodies with a strong interest in science and engineering capability are aware of the industry-sponsored approaches being developed and are asked to actively work with employers towards long-term mutual value.

  3.12  If we are to address the skills shortages and gaps we face in the UK in relation to science and engineering that are evident in our sector, we will need joined-up government thinking. This requires a joining up of action across GO-Science, charities, learned societies, RDAs and other stakeholders that you mention in your brief—along with industry—bearing in mind that a fully competent engineer takes three to six years to train to full competence. This is a significant challenge and if the UK is to realise the full potential of innovation, skills issues need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. We see some of the main solutions as detailed below:

    —  Working with government/s to modify immigration rules in the short term, whilst investing in skills development in the UK;

    —  Providing accessible funding to upskill existing technically skilled people in our companies to higher levels;

    —  Ensure that appropriate training is available to meet employers' needs (eg, through collaboration with Foundation Degree Forward and other bodies);

    —  Develop the training capacity to deliver the level of engineering skills that the industries are now identifying (evolving through work with the economic regulators on the investment needed for long term skills);

    —  Teachers training through industry on engineering skills and challenges;

    —  Creating training facilities as "safe" places for young people to obtain exposure to engineering in a practical way;

    —  Creating engineering focused teaching or e-learning packages for curriculum support;

    —  Support existing engineering students—develop our industries' links with Universities (eg., via the Power Academy);

    —  Obtain maximum industry impact on engineering initiatives, eg, working collaboratively to support the 14-19 Diplomas;

    —  Using young engineers within each industry to reach out via social networking such as podcasts, video-casts etc., placing engineering in the attractive light that our employees understand first-hand;

    —  Add an engineering positive image to the safety messages that our industries often take out into the primary school system.

  3.12  We see the approach as a collaboration between government and industry. However, each company can make its own contribution, individually and collaboratively. We will also continue to work with our sector collaboratively to influence the economic regulators to support further investment in skills development. We will also work with other Sector Skills Councils in the Science Cluster and the network of National Skills Academies to form and deliver collaborative solutions.


  EU Skills welcomes the opportunity to respond to this inquiry. We hope that the comments made in this response will help the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee in its deliberations.

January 2009

24   The PSSSG (Power Sector Skills strategy Group) and WISSG (Water Industry Skills Strategy Group) are industry-led groups consisting of senior members of companies from the power and water industries, facilitated by EU Skills. Back

25   House of Commons Business and Enterprise Committee (December 2008) Energy policy: future challenges-First Report of Session 2008-09, paragraph 26. Back

26   UKCES (October 2008) Simplification of Skills In England. Back

27   EU Skills (2006) Sector Skills Agreement Stage 1. Back

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