Climate change and energy transition are on everyone’s mind and governments as well as citizens are scrambling to find solutions to address our impact on nature and climate. The incoming European Commission has made it a priority to fight climate change and implement a just and swift energy transition. The President-elect of the Commission has made it clear that she will announce her climate strategy within her first 100 days in office and her highest officials, from Commission Vice-Presidents-elect to the president of the ECB, have been outspoken about accelerating the transition and bringing it at the centre of EU debates.
As the EU has ambitious plans to cut emissions in all sector and more particularly in energy and transport, we need to investigate the full repercussions of and barriers to these plans to ensure their swift and efficient implementation.
There is no doubt that decarbonisation, whether it is for buildings or road transport, means electrification. Further, electrification will need to take place at the lowest level possible in order to safeguard the stability of our power grids. This translates into an abundance of decentralised, small-scale and clean electrical technologies, increasingly becoming digitalised. Smart homes, electricity storage, renewables, e-mobility; they all require a skilled professional properly qualified to handle their installation and follow-up with service and maintenance.
Electrical contractors are responsible for performing that function and, with the scale of decarbonisation efforts ahead of us, they will be in high demand for the decades to come. This is where the challenge lies for our sector. Electrical contracting businesses are currently experiencing a shortage of both overall workforce and skilled workforce, and both are set to be exacerbated by the energy transition. All of the aforementioned strategies and plans will put a strain on the availability of the workforce and on the up-skilling needs of the existing one.
This challenge has been acknowledged by the EU:
“A low-carbon transition is expected to increase the capacity constraint in the labor market, also because skills needed during the transition might be in short supply. […] The impact of the low-carbon transition will mainly take the form of new “green” skills within existing occupations. Occupational groups for which this transition will considerably change the task profiles are construction workers, electro-engineering workers, […], science and engineering technicians. […] The pace of change is set to accelerate.”
In-depth Analysis in Support of the Commission Communication COM(2018)773 “A Clean Planet for All”
The energy transition will require the quick rollout of clean technologies, that rely on the availability of a large workforce; which also evolve rapidly, emphasising the need for dynamic re-skilling; and that are increasingly complex and interlinked, making long-term servicing and maintenance critical for their efficient operation. The needed deployment of climate mitigating technologies has been investigated and discussed at length already, however, the needed workforce has been utterly overlooked.
The central nature of the human capital calls for a deeper look into its availability as well as the scale and types of investments it needs. We would like to remind the competent authorities that massive investments in equipment and technologies for the energy transition can be useless is no one is there to install them.
E-mobility: With a projected 40 million of EVs on the road by 2030, we’ll need about 3.8 million extra charging stations built in the next 10 year. This amount to about 1000 chargers installed every day!
Solar: the 32% renewables target, if solar is to represent a conservative 10% of it, will count on 12 million new solar plants in the next 10 years. This means 3000 solar projects need to installed every day!
Electrical contractors already report difficulties with recruiting as well as numerous vacancies. And the technical challenge that will come with the energy transition will exacerbate the existing workforce challenges. Digitalisation comes on top of this to put more pressure on electrical contractors’ skill needs. Many workers from various industries will need their skills updated to keep up with digital trends, and electricity professionals have certainly not been spared.
The addition of the shortage of professionals to the need for increased skills and qualifications of these professionals, makes this a true challenge that our sector cannot address on its own. The employment and education policy requirements call for swift and coordinated EU and national action.
In Germany, 60% of electrical contractors have vacancies
In Sweden, installation companies are seeking to hire an estimated 28.000 workers in the next 5 years.
In the UK, electrical contractors will need 15.000 new apprentices, in addition to regular market intake, to cover the needs of the next 5 years.
Intertwine Climate and skills
The first step in facing these challenges is to recognise that they are both interlinked. Skills and employment should be embedded in climate strategies and understood as a potential barrier to their implementation. There should be provisions to support skill needs according to the planned rollout of clean technologies as well as for their operation and maintenance, which can last in the decades and require more extensive planning. The availability of the workforce in sufficient numbers has to be taken into account as well, if the installations are to meet safety and quality standards.
- Make skills a priority in the European Green Deal, the upcoming Climate Law and in the Clean Energy Industrial Competitiveness and Innovation Strategy
- Prioritize green jobs in employment-related funding such as ESF+
When considering the path leading to the required jobs and skills for the energy transition, a healthy relationship between employers and education authorities is the missing link to reach the benchmark set by landmark systems such as in Switzerland. Actors from industry and the private sector are allowed and invited to contribute to education programmes to convey the needs of the labour market and make sure students are well prepared to face the challenges ahead. National governments should leverage on sectoral organisations’ expertise on labour market requirements for better skills anticipation and matching. Including them at the earliest stages will allow for a dynamic adaptation of education programmes to face the challenge of fast-evolving technologies.
- Involve private sector organisation at the earliest stage
- Ensure the dynamic adaptation of education and training for skill anticipation and matching
- Provide funding for skills anticipation and matching initiatives
Strengthen Public-Private Partnerships
Incentivize Technical Education
One of the major hurdles in addressing the workforce challenge is the unflattering image from which the relevant education paths suffer. Technical and professional education are often seen as being a lower tier compared to the general education, affecting how students (and parents) perceive it, but also teachers, who might be disincentivised to work in technical schools, leading to a poorer quality of education. This misconception should be addressed by raising awareness about the job opportunities and needed skill that follow. Jobs in the electro-technical sector are green, growing and resilient and offer bright career prospects, especially in the countries where this education is valued. Additionally, education systems should be reformed to avoid “lock-in” effects and introduce more flexibility and mobility between education types as well as better access to tertiary education.
- Ensure parity of esteem between all types of education
- Provide high quality teachers for technical schools
- Reform education systems for more flexibility, mobility and access to tertiary education
Our world is continuously evolving at a pace that is unparalleled, fuelled by the digital transformation, and it is up to our decision-makers to ensure that our children will be able to keep up. Dual education needs to become a central feature of our education systems if they are to be dynamic enough for the world of tomorrow. Through work placements, students have a better chance to gain the most modern knowledge and skills and can still receive the necessary theory in regular classes. Apprenticeships are already a cornerstone of the path towards the electro-technical sector but still need to be incentivized to reach their full potential, in terms of quality and quantity. Dual education and apprenticeship systems should also be designed to benefit from more flexibility regarding their outcomes and possibly lead to tertiary education.
- EU should provide funding to secure sufficient placements in relevant labour markets
- Education reforms should value dual education and allow for it to lead to tertiary education
- Draw on the Swiss model, where dual education is central in the educational system and employment levels are exceptional
Incentivize Re- and Up- Skilling
The digital transformation is not limited to the future of the workforce but is already affecting our current, ageing, professionals. The need for up-skilling has never been so pressing as the energy transition calls for modern skills that were not available over 20 years ago. Additionally, workers from other sectors, especially fossil industries, should be supported in their career transitions with quality re-skilling programmes. Training programmes, particularly for re-skilling, are too often addressed only to job seekers, meaning that employed workers need to first quit their job in order to be able to transition to a green job.
- EU should provide funds for training programmes for green jobs
- With the support of the EU, governments should incentivize businesses to invest in human capital not just equipment, keeping in mind SMEs need support most of all
- Support career transitions, not only for job seekers and particularly for fossil industry workers (such as from coal regions).
Kristian Ruby, Secretary General, Eurelectric:
“Change starts with people. Moving on to carbon-neutrality, electricity companies need a broad set of new skills to accelerate the deployment of renewables, update distribution grids, digitalise and speed up the electrification of transport, housing and industry. Today, the skills gap is a real issue and Europe risks lacking hundreds of thousands of competent workers by 2030. It is crucial that Europe invests in ensuring the development of future-oriented skills and qualifications to deliver on its climate objectives.“
Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO, SolarPower Europe:
“With solar booming in Europe and projections putting our technology on a rapid trajectory, the market is clearly ready for wide-scale solar installations. With the Green Deal set as a priority for the incoming European Commission, and members states implementing ambitious national targets, the political climate is primed for the clean energy transition. And with solar estimated to create 1.7 million jobs in Europe by 2050, there is massive long-term socioeconomic potential. Now it is important to ensure that there are sufficient skilled workers to support the roll out of solar and renewable technologies. EuropeOn’s #Skills4Climate campaign, calling for the EU to incentivise technical education and up-skilling, is crucial to develop the next generation of green jobs. A skilled workforce is a core ingredient of delivering a just transition for Europeans and supporting the EU’s ambitious climate and energy targets.“
Thomas Nowak, Secretary General, EHPA:
“Skilled experts are essential for the energy transition in the heating sector. They ensure the proper installation of green and efficient solutions while ensuring end-user comfort. Without these ‘heating heros’ the quest for a decarbonised building stock is lost before it even started.“
Eugenio Quintieri, Secretary General, European Builders Confederation:
“EBC supports the #Skills4Climate campaign because the construction sector and its electrical trades are facing a shortage of qualified workforce in the field of “green” skills. With the ambition to contribute more efficiently to the achievement of the overall climate objectives, we consider that greater support should be provided at national and EU level for learning opportunities in our sector, both for the active professionals who are already being asked to continuously demonstrate new capabilities in a fast-changing technological landscape and for the potential newcomers and apprentices wishing to develop in our businesses. In this perspective, EBC is a partner of the EU co-funded project “Construction Blueprint”, which aims to establish a new framework for skills in the construction sector in Europe, by enhancing the matching between the companies’ needs and the programmes offered by training centres as well as anticipating skills’ needs in the fields of digitalisation, circular economy and energy efficiency.“
Ourania Georgoutsakou, Secretary General, LightingEurope:
“By switching from incandescent lamps to energy efficient LED lamps, European citizens have benefited from up to 90% savings. The lighting industry is committed to offer EU citizens efficient lighting that benefits the environment but also human comfort, safety and well-being. We need trained and qualified professionals able to design, install and maintain lighting products and systems. We need them to source the right products from the EU market, as we see an ever-increasing number of non-compliant products items available. Our industry is already providing support to professionals through training programmes, for instance, but education and employment policies will play a key role in the future.“
Philippe Vangeel, Secretary General, AVERE:
“We support EuropeOn’s #skills4climate as training and re-skilling of technical professionals, namely the operators of charge points across Europe, will be key to support the mass uptake of electric vehicles across Europe. This will ensure the overall transition to zero emission transport. Together with EuropeOn, AVERE calls on the EU to create more jobs and growth opportunities for the e-mobility sector by prioritising skills-related instruments in the upcoming European Green New Deal. This should be coupled with the leveraging of public-private partnerships to promote much needed knowledge and capacity building.“
Oscar Querol, Secretary General, CECAPI:
“The European electrical industry is working to achieve the requirement for greater energy efficiency in our homes to the benefit of the residents and also to support meeting the required national carbon reduction targets. To enable a smooth transition to a decarbonised power-based economy will however not solely depend on having energy efficient products, but also selecting the correct product for their application, as part of the installation and design processes. The electrical industry is committed to provide the required training to support the up-skilling of electrical installers. However, there is also a need for the EU and national policy makers to provide the additional training infrastructure and environment to accelerate the achievement of this objective.“
Casto Cañavate, Marketing Manager, KNX:
“KNX is committed to creating a smart living environment, based on efficient and clean technologies. Professionals in home and building system using our technology can integrate any application into one common solution. We strongly believe that, going forward, installers and integrators will increasingly require new skills and we think energy and education policies must support the level up of such skills.“
Hans Hanegreefs, Secretary General, EUEW:
“The European electrical wholesalers, represented within EUEW, are engaged to working with their partners in the ecosystem in driving the change towards a climate-neutral economy. Electrical wholesalers are in the center of the ecosystem sourcing the new technologies from manufacturers and supplying these with the relevant training to the installers. Currently, EUEW notes a lack in skilled professionals, which is hindering the electrical industry to deliver its full potential in deploying the new technologies needed for the energy transition.“
Christiane Mann, SVP Strategy and Operations, Schneider Electric:
“Schneider Electric’s core business is the delivery of efficient, smart, clean and safe electrical technologies. We work in close cooperation with the installers of our products to make sure that all machines and devices are well integrated and operate optimally throughout their full lifetime. Availability of properly skilled contractors will be key.“