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Opinion piece: Skills development remains key to charting the future amid the looming energy transition

By Mamiki Matlawa, Group Business Development Executive at ACTOM

The shifting landscape of the energy sector towards sustainability and efficiency will have implications for workforce and skills development, with organisations needing to explore how to navigate this transition effectively.

South Africa’s draft Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) for the energy sector introduces new energy sources such as nuclear, gas and hydrogen into the mix, which calls for proactive measures to be taken to prepare workforces for these incoming technologies. New skill sets will be required for the building and operating of new power plants in the renewables space, while energy storage, which includes smart grid technologies, will need different skills to be developed.

Along with smart technology skills, project management is another specific skill set that is becoming increasingly essential in the energy sector as it transitions to renewable energy technologies and digitalisation. The shortage of project management skills already became apparent during some of the Eskom capital projects, such as the construction of the Kusile plant, which required these skills to be sourced from outside the country.

As a result, organisations will have to place particular emphasis on the significance of upskilling initiatives, partnerships, and inclusive practices to meet the demands of this changing industry, underscoring the importance of investing in future jobs in the energy sector.

Proactive steps

Encouragingly, some industry-leading organisations are already taking steps to proactively prepare their workforce to meet the evolving demands of the energy transition. Over the past two years, many of these companies have increased their intake of technicians and engineers in training to build up these skills, as they form the base for the newer technologies that will soon be introduced.

Beyond this, companies within the energy sector should also invest in tailored training programmes and upskilling initiatives that can potentially play a crucial role in ensuring that employees gain the necessary competencies for the future energy market. Such initiatives can go a long way to ensuring that both business and government entities are prepared for the new skills requirements. Tailored training and upskilling programmes can be used to develop a diverse set of skills, from design and project management to quality assurance.

Valuable partnerships

Additionally, partnerships between industry players, educational institutions and government bodies can contribute to skills development and address sector-wide needs. Several industry leaders are already partnering with tertiary education institutions to map out future curriculums that are in step with the future needs of industry.

Yet, more could be done in this area, especially considering the value of these partnerships. These types of collaborations are key to the development of workforces of the future as they offer opportunities for focused training and skills development in critical areas where skills gaps exist in the sector.

However, building a resilient and innovative workforce for the energy sector’s future cannot be done without ensuring diversity and inclusivity. This will only happen when companies acknowledge that representation is important to allow new entrants into the job market to participate meaningfully in the sector, as well as to tap into diverse talent pools. Many companies are looking to introduce new policies, for instance, to ensure greater gender representation as they head into the energy transition.

The future of the energy sector looks bright, but with the looming shift to sustainability and efficiency, due consideration must be given to long- and medium-term targets concerning skills capacity building. The transition brings with it tremendous opportunities for growth of the sector and for developing universal access to energy – it is an opportunity our country can hardly afford to miss.

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