The North West Energy & Hydrogen Cluster is to set out a roadmap for low carbon skills in the region. Working with businesses, universities, colleges and training providers the plan will highlight where skills gaps exist and where investment is needed.
This comes as a report from the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) revealed that over £40bn could be invested in the engineering construction industry by 2050 – with around £7bn of that potentially set to come to the North West.
The ECITB’s Towards Net Zero report outlines how the UK must deploy a range of technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen, as well as attracting new talent and upskilling existing workforces in order to decarbonise the industrial and energy sectors.
Led by the University of Chester and Manchester Metropolitan University, the Cluster skills roadmap will seek to understand the skills requirements of industry in the region as businesses seek to respond to the Government’s target of net zero emissions by 2050.
Emma Degg of the North West Hydrogen & Energy Cluster said: “The North West is poised to come forward as the first decarbonised industrial cluster. New technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture, smart grids and renewable energy projects are already transforming the engineering construction sector in the region. The density of industries such as oil and gas, can provide complementary skills to support the transition to low carbon energy technologies and we have significant skills in salt cavern storage – something that the ECITB report highlights as an area that needs investing in.
“In the North West we’re working with businesses, universities, colleges and training providers to prepare a roadmap for low carbon skills which will highlight where investment is needed. This is hugely important to ensuring that the skills and job opportunities stay in the UK and in the region.”
Under the Government’s plans, at least one industrial cluster must decarbonise fully by 2040, with the remaining five becoming carbon neutral by 2050. The North West is bidding to become the UK’s first net zero carbon cluster, with the Liverpool and Manchester Mayors and Cheshire & Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) working directly alongside industry.
Led by the North West Business Leadership Team (NWBLT), the North West Energy and Hydrogen Cluster could deliver 33,000 jobs and save 10 million tonnes of CO2 per year. Other clusters coming forward include Teesside, Humberside, Grangemouth, South Wales and Southampton.
A key part of the North West’s decarbonisation approach is the work taking place to develop a hydrogen network, which is being spearheaded by the North West Hydrogen Alliance (NWHA).
Professor Joe Howe, Chair of the NWHA, Executive Director at the University of Chester’s Thornton Energy Institute and ECITB Board Member, said: “The Net Zero transition is a great opportunity, but it’s going to require some significant investment in skills and training. A lot of what needs to be implemented is not totally new technology, and already exists in some form, which is where the importance of skills comes in as we need the expertise to bridge that gap and put these technologies on site.
“A major concern is the ageing workforce, so it’s important to attract young people into industry. Clean growth can offer them the real opportunity to make a difference and be an instrumental part of the battle against climate change. We need to communicate the benefits of a career in this sector and attract school leavers into industry now so we can plan for the skills requirements of the future.
“This is a call to arms from industry, as the importance of developing skills in these sectors needs to be taken up by educational institutions and spearheaded at a Government level by the Department for Education.”
Amer Gaffar, Director of the Manchester Fuel Cell Innovation Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “We have to provide a solid understanding of the work currently being done to decarbonise both the region and the UK, and improve air quality. The skills roadmap is being developed to not only gain a further understanding of the challenges we face in this area from a view of both the educators and industry, but we need to develop a tangible pathway to skills to help regions like the North West decarbonise and create opportunities for future generations.
“The long term skills demand projections are currently uncertain, the quality of intelligence and forecasting is mixed and the pace of change is fast. However, we know that education and skills will ultimately underpin our ability to reach our ambition of a zero-carbon economy. As well as the environmental crisis there is also a compelling social and economic drive to ensure that the current and future workforce are equipped with the necessary skills to fill these roles.”
The ECITB Towards Net Zero report calls for action from industry and policy stakeholders in three areas: identify and close skills gaps; minimise skill shortages; and leverage policy and innovation. The full report can be viewed here. The research finds there are notable skills gaps nationally in areas such as C02 pipeline monitoring, production of synthetic fuels and repurposing of salt caverns for hydrogen shortage. Uncertainties lie around the number of workers required and the timeframe for their deployment.
Chris Claydon, ECITB Chief Executive, said: “Engineering construction is a dynamic industry and the widespread adoption of renewable energy technologies in recent years shows industry can successfully adapt to transform big challenges into great opportunities.
“Our Towards Net Zero report points to new technologies, such as hydrogen fuels and carbon capture, that we must embrace in order to meet our climate change targets. To do this, we need a vibrant and skilled contracting industry to successfully deliver the technologies and infrastructure required to decarbonise industrial sites and processes.”