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Opinion Piece: Bridging the gap between traditional and high-tech skills is critical in South Africa’s renewable energy rollout

By Benita Stander, Business Development Executive at Oxyon People Solutions

The need for South Africa to urgently provision renewable energy power plants is clear, however, aside from the red tape that has held projects back in the past, labour provides another blocker. While we have the practical engineering skills from the older generations, and the technology and computer skills of the emerging workforce, there is a skills gap between the two that needs to be addressed. A Temporary Employment Services (TES) provider can be invaluable in transitioning skills between the generations to ensure that our renewable energy rollout can be expedited.

Benita Stander

Invaluable skills

The Baby Boomer generation was once the leading-edge innovators of industrial expansion, but they are now the retiring workforce, taking with them an invaluable lifetime of skills and experience. From the hands-on and real-world insights to the knowledge required to meticulously and properly design at a highly advanced and complex level, these engineering skills are critical to any successful project. In contrast, the emerging workforce of new engineering graduates has the education and the technological savvy but lacks experience in professional practice. This skills gap is broad and poses a real challenge of how to ensure that these practical skills are not lost.

This is particularly important in a new sector like renewable energy, where there is an urgency for projects to get off the ground and be completed quickly and accurately to address South Africa’s energy crisis. For example, the knowledge of safe practices needed to get the power plants to commission comes from years of hands-on experience. While the use of technology such as artificial intelligence is invaluable in planning and drafting, the actual physical installation still requires practical experience. It has become imperative to bring together the benefits and skills of both worlds through effective skills transfer and mentorship.

Blending generational strengths

If South Africa is to effectively roll out renewable energy, there needs to be an opportunity created for skills transfer and bringing together the strengths of both generations. One effective way to achieve this is through mentorship and learnership programmes. These can be used to support new graduates and the emerging workforce, allowing them to benefit from the experience of their mentors. Younger generations too can share their knowledge and insight into new technology, helping to ease some of the fear of change that may hold older generations back from embracing new solutions.

However, while mentoring and learnerships are essential, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Training and skills transfer needs to be tailored to the individual organisation, and this is where partnering with a reputable and experienced TES provider can be of assistance. Not only can they facilitate the appropriate training and skills transfer programmes, but they can also work with retired professionals on a consultancy basis to ensure that skills are not lost as older generations leave the active workforce.

Your partners for success

A TES provider works closely with renewable energy organisations to understand where gaps exist that may be holding up construction and rollout. They can partner with the business to tailor incentives and programmes for the transfer of skills to the younger generation and help to bridge the gap between the senior engineers and the younger engineers. This can include mentorship and learnerships to upskill and cross-skilling. A TES partner can also provide the skilled candidates required to help augment existing workforces to ensure that projects run smoothly and on time.

The key is not to be complacent and assume that newly graduated engineers will learn on the job. The time constraints and urgency of renewable power as well as the nature of the environment mean that this is not a realistic scenario. Partnering with a TES that can proactively begin the process of facilitating skills transfer and bridging this gap is critical to preventing costly project delays.