In this final instalment of our Opportunities & Challenges In The Energy Sector 2023 series, we’ll be looking to the future of the energy sector including the role of artificial intelligence (AI) for business as well as the impacts on the workforce as digital skills become more highly sought-after than ever.
Moving closer to 2050 and the global net zero target, one of the biggest changes will inevitably occur in the workplace as we install new technologies, upgrade software, and optimise internal processes including health and safety procedures, security standards, and more. As many modern systems rely on connectivity and AI, they can help alleviate the need for lengthy manual tasks and help workers complete projects more quickly, work more efficiently, and collaborate more easily. The increased reliance on AI in recent years has also made it possible to innovate faster, generate more income, and improve customer experiences.
Modernising our technology through hardware and software will, however, not be a substitute for the power of human resources as all of the infrastructure required to make net zero a reality will be developed, built, and used by people – which is why focusing on training and upskilling is vital over the next couple of decades. Through dedicated, purpose-built software systems, businesses can manage internal and external data, generate automated reports, facilitate e-learning to track employees’ progress and provide L&D updates in real-time, as well as improve system security for local and remote teams as more workers continue to choose to work from home post-pandemic.
The rise of connected technology together with remote working practices has unfortunately made businesses more susceptible to cyber-attacks and companies in the energy sector make an attractive target for cybercriminals due to their reach and wide customer base. This is why preemptive and preventative measures can be even more important than traditional corrective measures post-attack. Many modern security tools are now equipped with machine learning technology and can detect even minor changes in network or system usage to help predict incoming attacks, lock down resources to prevent file corruption or theft, or mitigate the extent of an attack by blocking users, taking parts of the system offline, and more. Ensuring sufficient security features extend to the remote workplace is particularly critical for data transfer, as while data might be encrypted at each end-point, the transfer period between hosts can be exploited by cybercriminals. This is also why ensuring all colleagues understand security procedures and are comfortable using any newly-introduced software and hardware in the workplace is the first step to retraining the workforce and improving digital skills.
Statistics from a recent government report showed that approximately 82% of all jobs in the UK require digital skills, however, a further report by Hays suggested one-third of vacancies in 2021 could not be filled due to candidates’ lack of digital knowledge – showing the extent of the digital skills gap in the UK. Delving into these required skills in more detail, a 2022 Ipsos MORI survey conducted for Lloyds Bank revealed that 18% of people are unable to backup files and images to the cloud, 28% are unable to access files stored on the cloud from different devices, 20% are unable to create and edit documents, 14% struggle to fill in online forms for bookings, and 17% are unable to identify secure websites. As the survey demographics were representative of the wider UK population, Lloyds extrapolated the results to conclude that almost 12 million people in the UK would be unable to complete all the tasks laid out in their Essential Digital Skills for Work checklist. By 2030, this skills gap is predicted to cost the UK £120 billion.
Alongside upskilling people currently in the workforce, it’s important to also focus on the next generation of workers (commonly dubbed the “net zero generation”). As part of the 2020 #YourVoiceYourFuture campaign launched by the African Union, European Union and UNICEF, a survey of approximately 450,000 young people aged between 14 and 35 indicated that 88% of young people “feel responsible for tackling climate change” and 71% “want to have an active role in the green transition”. However, analysis by Skills Clock suggests that close to 67% of young people across the world lack sufficient digital skills – meaning that although young people are showing an interest in gaining more education, there is not enough support or resources available to them. It’s estimated around 621 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are not currently in education, employment, or training – meaning almost half of the world’s youth are not making progress towards their careers (and the vast majority are women).
Furthermore, global statistics also show that the current youth unemployment rate is almost 3x that of adult unemployment rates – putting additional strain on young people to catch up without the resources being available for them to do so. It’s estimated that by 2030, 60% of young people (approximately 830 million people) will not have the basic skills required for the workplace (and we’re beginning to see the effects of this already). This will present one of the biggest challenges of the move to net zero, which is why incremental changes and upskilling are recommended sooner rather than later to prevent bottlenecks in the progress.
This is where e-learning can become a powerful tool in training people across a range of demographics and technical abilities through audio-visual online resources. One of the key trends in this area is the introduction of gamification, whereby the learning process rewards users through points, badges, and other incentives to make learning more engaging and fun. Research shows that 90% of workers feel more productive when using a gamified approach, and 72% feel that gamification inspires them to work harder to achieve set goals. A further analysis of 24 peer-reviewed papers on e-learning and gamification also showed that people who used a gamified approach to education were overall more motivated, achieved better grades than their peers, and were also more capable of applying their knowledge. (In one case study, the rollout of app-based training was directly responsible for £16 million of revenue growth.) This is also backed by a study from FutureLearn which showed that 23% of learners attributed the freedom to work at their own pace as the top benefit of e-learning, followed by the ability to work from home (22%), and the overall flexibility of the courses (20%). As some of the most important jobs in the very near future will involve the decommissioning of old technology (which many engineers carrying out the work may not be familiar with) e-learning also provides an opportunity to collate knowledge for future use and create a learning hub for your organisation.
In a previous article, we discussed how the move away from traditional fossil fuels is estimated to create 28.4 million full-time, permanent jobs globally (according to the findings of a study conducted by Standard University researchers). These jobs will include direct jobs such as project development, site management, construction, and provision of utilities; as well as indirect jobs such as sales, supply chain management, analysis, finance, technology, and more. Additionally, this will create better opportunities for induced jobs (created through reinvestment and spending) including hospitality, food and drink, retail, and others.
In the Stanford study, the researchers warn, however, that countries that are the most heavily reliant on fossil fuels (including Russia, Canada, and Africa) may incur a net loss of direct jobs, especially during the changeover process due to the current lack of sufficient current infrastructure. The jobs most affected will be those in mining and processing of fossil fuels (including refineries and oil and gas pipelines) and retraining the estimated 32 million workers across the fossil fuels industry will be crucial.
Alongside this, international “nature positive policies” could help generate over $10.1 trillion in business opportunities as well as create over 395 million jobs by the end of this decade. In addition to these, demand is also predicted to rise for temporary jobs in construction and operations, which will later shift to a demand for maintenance and site management. Some existing sites may require to be fully decommissioned, while others will be upgraded, which will additionally create a demand for the recycling of old equipment, auditing of sites and architectural planning to modernise and upgrade buildings, as well as a range of repair works.
New jobs created will include those in electricity generation, storage, and transmission – which in turn will create jobs in the production and maintenance of these new products (and educational opportunities will also arise while the workforce is still training and retraining). There are also some jobs, including within the transportation sector, where human resources will move directly from servicing the fossil fuels industry to transporting other goods and services – roles that are highly in demand across the world due to the rise of e-commerce and the increased need for faster, more efficient delivery services.
Moving forward, the most sought-after jobs continue to be in software development and IT – and we’re consistently seeing these roles in top 10 lists (and usually in the top 3) on sites such as Edvoy, Glassdoor, and Indeed. The Digital Economy Council also report that the number of advertised tech roles is currently 42% higher than pre-pandemic levels and tech and IT-related vacancies make up 13% of all job vacancies; however, “programmers and software development professionals” are also consistently on the Government’s list of shortage occupations across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland (and some roles are being left unfilled after 30+ days). Within the energy sector, it was also found roles required more higher-skilled workers on average (45% compared to 25% in other industries).
Analysing current job listings, there is a strong focus on technical knowledge and project management experience, with many jobs requiring knowledge of Atlassian tools such as Jira and Confluence, as well as proficiency with Microsoft 365 suite. Engineering and field-based jobs also require up-to-date certifications from the application stage as part of the essential criteria. In addition to a university or college engineering degree, most job roles require at least 4-5 additional certifications and previous management experience in the industry – making entry-level jobs less abundant but providing ample opportunities for those already in the workforce to upskill.
This lack of entry and junior-level jobs is contributing heavily to the widening skills gap in the UK as junior positions are demanding qualifications beyond what is attainable for entry-level. In fact, a 2022 report exploring roles in the tech sector found that a staggering 80% of vacancies were for senior-level positions. In a further survey, 36% of companies said they “rarely provide digital training,” and 32% also said they were “unable to recruit staff with the necessary competencies”.
The challenges created by a lack of sufficient training, availability of jobs, workforce skills, and modern infrastructure are contributing to an overall growing barrier to achieving net zero across the globe: there are still 19 countries that have no pledge or plans for achieving net zero at present (including Poland, Algeria, Iran, Libya), and a further 72 countries currently in discussions or in the process or proposing a country-wide pledge. This means that less than half of the countries in the world are currently making progress towards their individual net zero goals – leaving less and less time for countries to achieve those goals before 2050.
Although we’ve identified a number of challenges in the energy sector, the industry’s outlook is bright. Looking to the future, we can see many opportunities for growth, development, and innovation through the power of technology – and while upgrading software and implementing new technologies will improve efficiency and collaboration, the focus must be on the needs of the people who will make these evolutions a success. With the right tools and resources, we can build a more sustainable and prosperous future for all.
Find out more about how technology is changing the energy sector throughout our article series, or contact our team to start your project.
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