Climate for Change
Scotland has long been associated with wellpaid jobs in the energy sector.
Many of these, however, are in oil and gas, which comes with some
powerfully negative perceptions.
Extracting fossil fuels is often viewed – not always incorrectly – as a
labour of brawn and dirt, with hard physical work in sometimes foul weather
on a platform out in the North Sea. While the money can be good, there’s a
big demographic that kind of career is never going to appeal to.
But renewable energy is different. It’s seen as clean, exciting and driven
by cutting edge technology.
And it’s aspirational. What young engineer, scientist or project manager
wouldn’t want to work in a sector that is financially rewarding, has great
career prospects and is making a positive contribution in the fight against
climate change? Currently, according to the Office of National Statistics
(ONS), there are some 18,000 people employed in renewables in Scotland,
most in onshore wind (5,800) , though there are also significant workforces
in hydro (3,600) and offshore wind (3,400).
There is no doubt that this jobs figure will rise in the future as green
power becomes more prevalent and associated opportunities arise. In marine
energy, for instance, where Scotland has a particular strength, the tidal
stream industry could generate a net 4,000 jobs by 2030, with an overall
benefit to the UK of £1.4 billion.
In addition, wave energy – another sector where Scotland has proven
strength – could do even better, supporting some 8100 UK jobs by 2040 and
contributing £4 billion to the economy.
Though precise future employment figures for Scotland are hard to predict,
there is general agreement that this growth will lead to a plethora of job
opportunities in a sector which will appeal to millennials in particular.
As the renewables industry becomes more mature, it will move beyond the
construction and installation phases and into areas such as supply and
maintenance (though there will always be a role for ongoing infrastructure
renewal, upgrading and replacement).
Scotland’s network of world class universities and other institutions are
also ideally placed to help research and develop new green power
technologies and bring them to the market.
There is a consensus in the industry that we were too slow off the mark
when it came to the design and manufacture of onshore wind turbines, losing
out to countries such as Denmark and Germany. Leading figures warn we must
not make the same mistake again when it comes to emerging technologies such
as electric vehicles (EVs).
John Currie, Renewables Recruitment Manager for the international energy
workforce solutions provider Airswift, is optimistic about the
opportunities green technologies offer the jobs market.
“Scotland and the UK already have an established history in renewables,” he
explains. “We have been at the forefront of the market in areas such as
tidal power. We have built up the experience and the skillsets and learned
This could well mean jobs not just for Scots at home but globally, he adds.
“Because of this knowledge, other areas of the world are going to be
seeking talent from Scotland. Asia is currently in the middle of a growth
period in renewables and it is about to take off in a big way in the United
Currie says that there is currently a particular shortage of workers taking
up blue collar positions within the industry. “It could be that we need to
think about this and offer up more apprenticeships in appropriate subjects.
It’s a sector people want to work in and it’s not as driven by money as oil
and gas – employers don’t necessarily have to get their cheque books out.”
While public financial support has been essential for the success of
renewable energy, it is likely that more and more of the costs, including
employment, will be picked up by the private companies operating within the
Chief Executive at Confederation of Forest Industries.
The subsidy for onshore wind generation, where Scotland has a strong
presence, has already been removed, though this is offset by the fact that
improved technology is bringing industry overheads down. Green employment
covers a wide and diverse range of roles, not all of which involve power
generation or technology. Stuart Goodall, is the Chief Executive of trade
body Confor, which promotes forestry and wood.
He explains: “Trees are green, and in a world fighting to mitigate the
effects of climate change, jobs in forestry and wood processing are among
the greenest. The industry is very unusual, as it can deliver economic and
environmental benefits simultaneously.
“However, if governments across the UK are to realise their ambitions for
significantly increased tree planting, we need more people working in tree
nurseries and planting tomorrow’s forests.”
However, he goes on to warn: “Many of these jobs are currently filled by
migrant labour so the impact of Brexit is of concern. Confor has sought
reassurances that any labour scheme embraces forestry, and indeed wood
Nick Shenken, Partner at TLT LLP.
Nick Shenken, a Glasgow-based Partner in the Clean Energy Team at the legal
firm TLT, says he believes the job opportunities will be there in the
future, but he sounds the warning that Scotland must ensure it is well
positioned to take advantage of industry growth.
“We must make sure that we do the very best we can to maximise the benefits
and take advantage of the moment. We lost out in the past in areas such as
the manufacture of turbines for onshore wind.
We mustn’t let things pass us by again.”
This article appeared in The Herald on the 21st February 2019.
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