Filling the energy skills gap: a conversation with Jonathan Lee Recruitment

Jack Unwin 24 July 2019 (Last Updated July 24th, 2019 09:41)

As the UK’s energy generation increasingly moves towards renewables, how has the job market changed? Lee Elwell and Les Hines of Jonathan Lee Recruitment sat down with Jack Unwin to explain how everything from data analytics, to contract work and Brexit are affecting recruitment.

Filling the energy skills gap: a conversation with Jonathan Lee Recruitment
Les Hines says: “The uncertainty around Brexit may hold people back from leaving their current employers.” Credit: Sergey Pyatakov / Сергей Пятаков

Jack Unwin (JU): You’ve changed the name of the division from power generation to energy division, what was the reasoning behind this?

Lee Elwell (LE): We believed that power generation was an old fashioned term. When you think of power generation you think of traditional industries like nuclear or coal. We wanted to move with the times and we did a lot of research and deemed that a name change to energy would suffice and would then incorporate the technology side of things.

JU: Is there a labour shortage in energy?

Les Hines (LH): Generally across the engineering sector there is a bit of a gap. In the UK, we have a rich, mature level of engineering knowledge. We have some very good senior experts within the UK and some very good, aggressive graduate campaigns happening.

But the biggest area of recruitment is for individuals that have 5-10 years of experience, so senior and principal level candidates, that is the biggest gap in the market. How we can transfer individuals who have different skill sets into the new technology, particularly around data and digital, is the challenge.

JU: What are the most common and popular roles you recruit for?

LE: On my side it’s more designer projects, so this would be anything from electrical mechanical design through to programme delivery, project management.

LH: From my perspective in asset management, which is quite a wide remit but generally it tends to be strategic consultant.

JU: Are they any particular geographical locations that are popular for these roles?

LE: Lincolnshire and the eastern part of the UK is pretty buoyant, but from our catchment it is the UK and Europe-wide as well. I wouldn’t say certain areas over others, but we have noticed that the eastern part of the UK is buoyant right now.

JU: You advertise for roles in Europe as well then?

LH: Yes, we’ve done work in Belgium and Holland as you have that belt between the UK and mainland Europe that is prime location for offshore wind.

JU: Has there been a Brexit impact?

LH: In my opinion no, the reason being in asset management (AM) the investment being pumped into infrastructure and new technologies is phenomenal and robust.

So from an actual jobs perspective no, but where it will have an effect is candidates coming from mainland Europe and further afield. The uncertainty around Brexit may hold people back from leaving their current employers, because they don’t know what the future holds.

JU: Do you feel you’ll be able to fill the roles after Brexit?

LH: I think we will fill the roles, it’s fulfilling the requirements. If organisations understand there is a skills shortage and they look at people coming out of heavy industries who are willing to invest in training and convert skills, I think we will be fine.

But there will be an effect of people coming over from mainland Europe there’s no doubt about that, it just depends on how hard or soft Brexit turns out to be.

JU: The roles you’re offering, are they contract based or permanent?

LE: I’d say its 80/20 in favour of permanent at the minute, but at the end of last year it was more contract based so it does really change around and depend on the time of year.

LH: If an organisation is willing to invest in training to develop someone’s skills from one to another, they will invest that in a permanent employee. Contracting is strong in onshore and offshore wind because that is the nature of the beast, you have a three year project cycle from the initial procurement through to construction, to its delivery. But generally we’re seeing more and more businesses who want to invest in their own, permanent employees.

JU: Would you be able to tell us more about cloud and robotics technology?

LH: From an AM perspective it’s not so much robotics but a big sway towards data analytics and data science.

What we are seeing now is organisations investing in that data and understanding the lifecycle of their product, so the biggest area of growth is with data analytics and data science. Individuals who can collate this information and present it to make financial decisions on the physical assets are in high demand.

JU: What do you foresee happening in your industries in the future?

LE: There’s a big push on alternative fuel sources. For us it’s exciting to deal with start-ups; they’ve got cutting edge technology which is interesting.

I still feel there will always be jobs for engineers, these jobs can’t be taken away, the only thing I see is rather than traditional fuels it will be more hydrogen and electric moving forwards, or biofuels.

LH: We need more power, more offshore and onshore wind farms, power plants, electrification on rail and highways.

These are all massive developments, which should lead to an increasing need for workers but the skill sets will change. It will need to become more digital as opposed to traditional mechanical and electrical. As an organisation we’re investing in these areas because we see them being strong growth areas over the next twenty years.

JU: This sounds quite positive, are there any potential icebergs ahead?

LH: Possibly the pipeline of the next generation of engineers, are we doing enough for the next generation? Are we going into primary and secondary schools? Making students aware of the future of engineering and making them aware that digital, data and software engineering can be exciting. So my concern is long-term and if there is a pipeline to sustain the level of recruitment required.

Then, going back to Brexit, is the UK appealing enough for investors? Or would they rather pump money into projects in Asia and the Middle East. It’s understanding if the UK still attractive enough for investors from Chinese markets for example.