Europe’s year of skills might be over but the efforts to get Europe’s workforce ready for a net zero economy continue.
Only a few months ago, Eurelectric’s President and E.ON CEO, Leonhard Birnbaum, flagged in an article by Financial Times, that he won’t have enough skilled workers in the future to smoothly run more than 16 kilometres of power lines across Europe.
“Baby boomers are reaching retirement age so over the next decade I’m losing one-third of my most experienced technicians. [...] I will not get the people so I need AI to make sure that I can still do my job.”– said Birnbaum.
Embracing change for the energy transition
In the next ten years, about 100 million workers in Europe will need reskilling because 20% of their tasks will be automated or digitised, according to a study by McKinsey. This means that 54 million jobs are at risks of displacement due to automation. Is the European traditional workforce doomed?
Certainly not. Skills are always evolving. As with any ground breaking innovation, new skills and profiles will emerge beyond traditional jobs calling for workers to adjust and even retrain to answer the evolving needs of our society. New technologies such as AI can play a supporting role by making some works more efficient and manual tasks less time consuming so that humans can spend more time for what they are best at: creativity.
“In today’s fast paced work environment the only constant is change”
“Shifting societal norms, technological advancements, global connectivity, have paved the way for a dynamic work environment that demands maximum amount flexibility, innovation and tailored solutions.” - added Karu.
Only a hundred years ago, power lines were being installed across several European towns, an occasion that required the blessing of a priest at the time. Fast forward 100 years, today we find ourselves in the electric decade with a staggering number of new technologies that will directly impact the way we live, travel, work and heat our homes.
“Solar panels today are as usual as a fridge 100 years ago” – says Eurelectric’s Secretary General Kristian Ruby.
With the Renewable Energy Directive’s adoption, renewable capacity will almost double by 2030 – shows Eurelectric’s Power Barometer 2023. This means that Europe will see around 605 GW of renewable capacity additions by 2030 mostly coming from wind and solar.
Electrification is taking off in the transport and heating sectors at an unprecedented speed. Electric vehicle (EV) sales are taking off and have increased by 21% from 2021. The same applies to electric buses. In 2022, 13.7% of new buses were electric. Yet, these percentages are nowhere near what’s needed to meet the 2030 decarbonisation targets.
Electric heat pumps are also growing steadily and reached the 20-million-unit threshold in 2022. Yet, from today to 2030, the cumulative stock will need to reach around 55 million – 2.7 times more than what we have now. Hitting these targets will depend on the right rate of investment, policy incentives and ultimately, skilled workers to make it all happen.
Which skills are most needed in Europe to decarbonise?
Today’s workforce is already heavily concentrated in the renewable sector in Europe, specifically in wind and biomass with more than 1.3 million workers – shows the European Commission’s 2020 employment report. The sector is followed by the nuclear industry which employs around 1.1. million workers in Europe. These numbers will continue to grow with the speed at which Europe aims at deploying new renewables.
However, in the EU we still have hundreds of thousands of people working in fossil fuel industries. Large investments will therefore need to go into reskilling and training or even displacing people into new positions. This means that 60% of all adults should participate in training every year according to Eurostat.
Such upskilling should first and foremost focus on the acquisition of full digital literacy. Working with technologies that can decarbonise our economy requires digital competence. Eurostat confirms that in 2021 only 26.5% of the EU working age population had digital skills. The mismatch is real considering that the Commission had set a 70% digital literacy target for Europe’s workforce by 2025.
A new study conducted by Bruegel on the twin digital and green transitions shows that the foremost requested skills when it comes to green jobs have to do with (1) recycling, (2) energy transformation, (3) environmental protection and (4) energy supply.
The power sector in particular will need more and more workers who are familiar with data science, data management and advanced energy management platforms and people able to analyse grid analytics, knowledgeable in grid technology integration and experienced in strategic planning based on modelling.
When looking at hard skills, graduates in the STEM faculties – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – will be in even higher demand than today, confirms the Commission’s report. In parallel, costumer awareness, problem solving, team working, self-management and communication will be the most desired soft skills in the energy sector.
How to get there?
Europe must boost the number of green workers and equip them with the right skills to deliver the efficient, clean, and safe electrical installations we need.
This will mean expanding the ‘pipeline’ of workers by reaching out to young people, existing professionals and workers looking to change careers. We can do this by making green jobs more attractive, increasing gender diversity, ensuring that technical education and apprenticeships are properly valued and making upskilling readily available.
As detailed in Eurelectric’s Election Manifesto, the EU should capitalise on the Skills chapter of the currently negotiated Net Zero Industry Act (NZIA). Concretely, the NZIA’s Net Zero Platform should:
1) continuously monitor the gap between the number of workers available and the numbers required to deliver the energy transition;
2) engage young people and workers looking to re-skill with targeted communication campaigns and training opportunities – especially in regions transitioning from fossil fuels;
3) frontload the recognition of qualifications to maximise worker mobility.
This will give industry the confidence to invest in their workforce, create new jobs and ensure economic opportunities for the next generations to come.
Are you ready to reskill for net zero?