36.According to Energy & Utility Skills, “Delivery of long-term energy security safely and effectively at a justifiable cost requires an exceptionally skilled and substantial workforce.” Energy UK told us that EU/EEA employees made up 1-5% of the energy industry’s workforce.
37.According to Centrica, rules on freedom of movement and changes to the UK’s immigration policy post-Brexit could “constrain the ability of energy companies to effectively source specialist workers, leading to a shortage of skilled workers available to complete new generation and/or energy infrastructure projects”. Chatham House and the University of Exeter pointed out this could “result in higher construction costs and longer infrastructure construction times”.
38.In this chapter, we outline the main concerns of the energy sector in respect of access to labour post-Brexit; for a more detailed assessment of the UK’s reliance on non-UK EU workers, see our report Brexit: UK-EU movement of people.
39.Engineering roles were identified as being particularly reliant on EU labour. For example, Energy UK cited “the smart meter roll out, the delivery of which requires a large number of skilled engineers, many of which we expected to recruit from EU member states”.
40.Asked about the energy industry’s reliance on EU engineers, the Minister responded: “I am less concerned about that simply because, in a previous life, I saw the huge expansion of apprenticeship schemes in construction.” Lawrence Slade, Chief Executive of Energy UK, was less sanguine: “Having access to an indigenous workforce of a skilled nature is obviously a good thing for the country, but it does not happen overnight.” EDF Energy told us that “Whilst we are investing in skills development within the UK, we want to ensure that access to the best talent from the EU and beyond continues”.
41.Within the energy sector, the nuclear industry is particularly reliant upon overseas labour. As EDF Energy stated: “The highest concentration of non-British nationals as a percentage of the total employed workforce is within Nuclear New Build.” Angela Hepworth, Corporate Policy and Regulation Director at EDF, provided some concrete detail:
“At the peak of the construction of Hinkley Point, we are going to need 1,400 steel fixers. At the moment, the total population of certified steel fixers in the UK is 2,700 so we would need more than half of the total steel-fixing population in the UK in order to meet the peak requirement for Hinkley Point.”
42.The Institute of Mechanical Engineers agreed that “the nuclear sector relies heavily on skilled workers from Europe”, as did the Centre for Nuclear Engineering at Imperial College London: “The free movement of skilled professionals within the nuclear industry is critical to its long-term success.”
43.Discussing the construction of new nuclear plant, EDF Energy described “two primary factors drive the supply chain’s need for non-UK sources of skills and labour, niche/specialist skills and large volume requirements”. Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, described another practical challenge:
“There is also an issue around security clearance. It has been relatively easy to have EU workers come in and have security clearance to the sites, but once we start looking further afield for people from other parts of the world it is much harder for the security clearance to be obtained, which means that bringing people on to site and training them up could take longer. This will bring delays to our current construction.”
44.The Minister, Richard Harrington MP, acknowledged the nuclear industry’s concerns: “We have to make sure that we can bring the necessary people here, and it is a top priority for us.” Katrina McLeay, Head of Safeguards and Delivery in the Euratom Exit Team at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), added that “those issues and concerns have been flagged with the Home Office”.
45.Witnesses were concerned that any new immigration policy should be flexible enough to meet the energy sector’s needs. For instance, Energy & Utility Skills told us that “any new immigration policy must avoid arbitrary distinctions between ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ skilled jobs, based on inaccurate criteria such as whether or not it requires a degree—this does not reflect the value of such roles to the sector”. We heard from EDF Energy that “we are satisfied that the majority of our current employees would meet the existing UK Points Based System requirements. The same cannot be said for our supply chain workforce, most of whom would not meet the current entrance criteria.” Similarly, Ms Hepworth was concerned that steel fixing, a key skill for the construction of Hinkley Point, “does not meet the criteria for skilled employment under the UK’s points-based system”.
46.Asked about what steps the Government will take to ensure that the UK has access to the EU workers needed to construct and maintain its energy system, the Minister told us: “I think the Government have always said they want the brightest and the best.”
47.The energy industry is reliant on workers from the EU, in particular to fill its engineering roles. These workers are necessary for the construction and maintenance of a secure energy system. While we encourage the Government to pursue opportunities to train more workers domestically, this will take time, and continued access to EU workers will be needed in the meantime.
48.Dependence on EU workers is particularly acute in the nuclear energy sector. The evidence from EDF Energy is clear that without access to EU labour it will be difficult to complete construction of the new nuclear power facility at Hinkley Point.
49.We call on the Government to assess the workforce needs of the energy industry and ensure they are reflected in the post-Brexit immigration policy. Neither a simple extension of the current points-based system to EU workers, nor an exclusive focus on ‘high skilled’ workers, would address the industry’s concerns.
58 Written evidence from Energy & Utility Skills ()
59 Supplementary written evidence from Energy UK ()
60 Written evidence from Centrica ); see also supplementary written evidence from EDF ().
61 Written evidence from Chatham House and University of Exeter ()
62 European Union Committee, (14th Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 121)
63 (Lawrence Slade); see also supplementary written evidence from EDF Energy ().
64 Supplementary written evidence from Energy UK ()
67 Supplementary written evidence from EDF Energy ()
68 Supplementary written evidence from EDF Energy ()
70 Written evidence from Institution of Mechanical Engineers ()
71 Written evidence from Centre from Nuclear Engineering at Imperial College London (); see also written evidence from NIRO (), NNWE () and Centrica ().
72 Written evidence from EDF Energy ()
76 Written evidence from Energy & Utility Skills ()
77 Supplementary written evidence from EDF Energy ()