With the UK legally bound to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and hydrogen set to play pivotal role in that decarbonisation goal, the demand for workers with relevant hydrogen experience is on the verge of skyrocketing.
However, recruiting and training new talent is not without its challenges for an energy industry already beleaguered by talent shortages and a skills’ bottleneck, which is why supporting the current energy workforce to transition into emerging green growth industries has become a huge priority for both government and industry.
As things currently stand
Earlier this year the government updated its 2021 UK Hydrogen Strategy with a hydrogen sector development plan, which stipulated that since the original report’s publication “it has become even clearer that hydrogen must be a core part of the UK’s future energy security as well as plans to meet our legally binding commitment to achieving net zero by 2050.”
Specifically, by 2035, hydrogen could support as much as a 78% reduction in country-wide carbon emissions, and by 2050, as much as a third of the country’s energy consumption could be hydrogen-based.
What this means for the job market
Analysis by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) suggests the UK hydrogen sector could be worth £900 million and support 12,000 jobs by 2030 across hydrogen production, transport, and storage technologies for domestic and export markets. By 2050, in a high hydrogen scenario, the hydrogen economy could be worth up to £13bn and support up to 100,000 jobs.
Given the UK’s plans and the central role hydrogen will play in them, we are on the precipice of transforming the country’s industrial heartlands, as well as overhauling the way our entire gas distribution networks currently work and operate.
We are essentially looking at the creation of thousands of jobs across the development, deployment, building and maintenance of hydrogen infrastructure, as well as its actual production, distribution, and storage, not to mention the range of potential end uses for hydrogen, including power, heat, and transportation. This also includes jobs that will be created within the production of fuel cells and required components, as well as indirect opportunities throughout the supply chain.
Over the next 10 to 15 years there will be significant challenges in terms of skill supply and demand, not to mention finding the right skills to fuel the UK’s hydrogen transformation.
Although many of the skills needed for the hydrogen economy are said to already exist in the UK, those individuals still need to be retrained and upskilled, and many of them are already being utilised in other industries / sectors such as power, water, nuclear, and gas.
Industry experts estimate there are currently circa 1,000 to 2,000 individuals in the UK who have very specific hydrogen related skills. They work in areas such as innovation, strategy, investment, safety, policy and advisory, assurance, engineering, manufacturing, research and development, senior leadership, and domestic heating, and are part of the rich portfolio of jobs across high-carbon sectors such as oil and gas, chemicals, and wider engineering sectors.
Given the future workforce projections and the severe lack of appropriate skills in the marketplace currently, there is a pressing need to support the creation of hydrogen-related jobs now, not to mention upskilling relevant organisations’ existing workforce with hydrogen skills and training. Moreover, as hydrogen use and production begins to increase, the requirement for more hydrogen skills along the supply chain will also increase.
Jobs that will be affected, among others, include gas fitters, plumbers, and mechanics. Tradesmen working with hydrogen production and storage will also require new knowledge, while installing appliances and understanding how a fuel cell works are also practical skills that are needed. The industry also needs more researchers who can spearhead projects into cheaper electrolysers, storage systems, and engines and processes that can use the fuel.
What are you doing about it?
With significant activity already taking shape across the UK, the skills gap and the market’s future needs will become even wider unless it is tackled now.
Organisations in hydrogen sector will want to start thinking about partnering with a specialist talent provider that can help them draw in the right skills from other related industries (nuclear, utilities, energy, and engineering), and one that understands their challenges in detail, so that together they can create enough scale to hit those transformation targets. They want to ensure they are being supplied with the right talent, at the right time, if they want to secure a position as a market leader in hydrogen.
If you’re working with a talent provider, ask them what they are doing to meet your present and future hydrogen skills needs and how many individuals they have identified with hydrogen experience they can tap into. Share your skills analysis and workforce planning analysis with them so that they can tailor their talent pooling efforts to reflect the specifics of what you think your needs are going to be.
“We have just under 750 people in our accessible talent pool with specific hydrogen experience across a number of key discipline areas,” said James Chamberlain, Rullion Sector Director for Nuclear, Utilities and Energy.
When you look at our global figures, that talent pool extends to just over 5,000 individuals with specific hydrogen sector experience, which is small given the predicted numbers needed to fulfil our future hydrogen requirements, he said.
That is why Chamberlain and his team of Utilities and Power specialists, who take both a deliberate and structured approach when building talent pools, have already started talent pooling hydrogen specific talent for their clients.
“This is key to meeting the hydrogen sector’s future needs,” he said.
“You want to be able to access and upskill people with the right transferable skills and you want to upskill them quickly,” he added.
Chamberlain, who has worked with multitudes of energy organisations to help shape their talent pools, said he was keen to work with even more organisations in the UK hydrogen space as it was where the future was headed.
Moreover, it is only by really understanding an organisation’s perspectives and skills requirements over the next 10 years that any talent provider can really tailor its service to those needs.
Chamberlain said: “We are starting to work with our clients in the hydrogen space to really understand and map that future need and the specific skills required. We have a team of consultants specifically dedicated to building that talent pool for them which they can then build into their business over the next few years.”
Multiple organisations are going to be competing for the same talent and all organisations are going to find that a challenge, so it’s better to be out of ahead of the curve than playing catch up, he said.
Ideally key organisations within the industry should be working together to try and navigate that challenge for the good of the industry but, as a talent provider, it’s our job to give our customers the best competitive advantage and to elevate their access to that talent pool, said Chamberlain.
Other things to think about
Your talent provider’s location and their presence in that location is another important factor to take into consideration. Given the vast majority of hydrogen focused projects in the UK will sit outside London and the South East of England, you want to be looking at talent providers with specific skills and talent pools in project locations. You also want to look at what experience your talent provider has in other relatable industries, such as nuclear, which is predicted to play a key role in hydrogen production in the next five to 10 years, said Chamberlain.
Does your talent provider have experience within key research and development projects in the same or a similar space?
Has your talent provider worked with a global talent pool to service the UK?
“Our mission is to is to work with industry to really understand the nuances of the skills challenges in the market and we are starting to engage with industries and to really become part of that contribution. Hydrogen is so much bigger than any one organisation as it has the potential to really positively impact the planet.
For more information about upskilling your hydrogen workforce or talent pooling speak to your current talent provider or reach out to speak to James Chamberlain.