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Utilities skills strategy marks progress after first year

Employers from UK utilities are looking back on the progress made on workforce challenges following the first full year of the Energy and Utilities Workforce Renewal & Skills Strategy.

Nick Ellins, chief executive of Energy & Utility SkillsNick Ellins, chief executive of Energy & Utility Skills

The Skills Strategy has stimulated increased investment in skills, taken targeted action to address skills shortages and driven collaboration on a digital platform to appeal to new demographics.

Published in February 2017, the Skills Strategy documents how the energy and utilities sector will support UK infrastructure by developing a resilient and sustainable workforce. The sector combined accounts for the greatest share of the Government’s National Infrastructure Pipeline.

The Skills Strategy was developed by the Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership, a collaboration of 29 leading sector employers which formed in summer 2016. This predated the Government’s plans to drive skills reform through pan-sector employer groups.

Nick Ellins, Chief Executive of Energy & Utility Skills, who was a driving force behind the formation of the Skills Partnership, said: “The importance of the infrastructure sector generally, the skilled people needed to deliver it, the ageing workforce and need for greater inclusivity are all important themes in our Skills Strategy. The developments we have seen, with Ofwat and the Industrial Strategy White Paper, have followed on from recommendations in the Skills Strategy that prioritise growth and productivity. The Skills Strategy has stimulated initiatives that are building sustainability and workforce resilience.”

Highlights of work so far have included the formation of the Energy & Utilities Independent Assessment Service (EUIAS), which gives sector apprentices the opportunity to demonstrate competence to work in safety-critical industries. EUIAS provides high-quality end-point assessment services for nine of the 11 new English standards in this sector.

Over 2,000 apprentices are currently undertaking an apprenticeship within energy and utilities organisations. A further 250 have already passed through the EUIAS end-point assessment service and taken up employment in the sector with leading companies such as E.ON, Electricity North West, Morrison Utility Services, Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks, Severn Trent Water and UK Power Networks.

Meanwhile, the Skills Accord initiative is promoting structured and sustained investment in the technical and operational skills the sector needs most, through commitments in procurement practices.

It has been rolled out after a successful year-long pilot, during which lead partners – Skills Partnership members Amey, National Grid, SSE, Thames Water and UK Power Networks – cascaded the Skills Accord’s aims through their delivery partners and supply chain. The 26 companies that originally pledged to its commitments in the pilot year has now grown to 40 in its first year.

Through Talent Source Network, 20 of the Skills Partnership employers are offering hundreds of vacancies, including apprenticeships, on a shared online platform, alongside careers guidance and case study features on a diverse mix of new starters, recent recruits and senior professionals. Leveraging social media and targeted campaigns, TSN is engaging more diverse audiences and clearly showing achievable routes to progress from entry level roles all the way up to senior management. The 3,500 candidates registered on TSN include a higher proportion of women (33%) than the current workforce (20%).

The Skills Strategy’s calls to build sustainability and workforce resilience in the sector have since been recognised in policy. Ofwat‘s Resilience in the Round publication (September 2017) recognises the skills an organisation needs to run its infrastructure are a vital part of resilience and states that ‘resilience in the round for the long term is a key focus in the 2019 price review.’ After being named as one of the 10 Key Pillars in the Industrial Strategy Green Paper, infrastructure has been retained as one of five ‘Foundations of Productivity’ in the accompanying White Paper; the White paper has also expanded its remit in addressing an ageing workforce, which is one of the key asks of the Skills Strategy.

Nick Ellins concluded: “We are proud of the progress that the Skills Partnership has made within the first year, but we are not content to rest on our laurels. More political and policy focus should be given to sectors like ours that contribute most to the UK’s productivity and economy.

“We are continuing to work with regulators, government ministers and other key stakeholders: the sector needs their support to ensure we grow the sector talent pool, enable the transferability of skills and reduce individual employer costs by working collaboratively.

“It is vital that this sector, which is of strategic importance to national productivity, receives the investment it needs to address the challenges it faces. This will stimulate good outcomes for our customers, colleagues, companies and communities, so it can only be good for the UK economy.”

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