Innovating for skills; ‘a business as usual activity’

Innovating for skills; ‘a business as usual activity’

Nadhim Zahawi with Mick Shannon UKPN 900x689

A novel approach to developing and accrediting apprenticeship standards for utilities has made innovation in workforce renewal a business as usual activity argues Nick Ellins – first published Network Magazine, 29 September 2016

The energy and utilities workforce recruitment challenges are well documented.  Employers are unable to fill more than one third (36%) of skilled vacancies. This is well above the 23% UK average and notably higher than any other sector.

Energy and utilities employers continue to find it difficult attracting new entrants to the sector and with a fifth of current employees aged over 55, higher than the one sixth across the whole of the UK workforce, this makes them ideal candidates for mentoring new entrants and ensuring their extensive knowledge and skills is shared effectively.

The Energy & Efficiency Independent Assessment Service was developed as a result of the Energy & Utility Skills Group’s desire to find innovative ways to address the sector’s workforce challenges and skills issues.

Since its establishment in 2013, the Independent Assessment Service has become recognised as a well-respected kite-mark, built on a quality framework that benchmarks learning and assessment material against criteria that employers within the energy and utilities sector define as industry best practice.

The National Skills Academy for Power predicts that 18,700 appointments are required by DNOs and contractors across the power sector over the next six and a half years (the remainder of RIIO ED1).  Over half of these will need to be recruited through Apprenticeships and other talent sources, the remaining will need to be sourced through reskilling and upskilling; reinforcing the importance of having the Independent Assessment Service to endorse the increasing number of providers which will be required to deliver this training.

During the past two years, 92 organisations, plus seven universities, have formed employer-led trailblazer groups to work with the Independent Assessment Service.  The groups, dedicated to implementing the Government’s Apprenticeship reforms, have united to create 10 new Apprenticeship Standards and end-point assessment plans tailored to meet the needs of the energy and utilities sector.  Four of which are new standards created for the power industry.

In July 2016, we helped to make history with fifteen Power Network Craftsperson apprentices from UK Power Networks being the very first to complete their Apprenticeship Standard in any sector within the UK.  During the graduation event at the House of Commons in Westminster, the sector pledged to commit to recruiting over 4,000 apprentices this year.

With another two standards approved for delivery this month – the electrical power protection and plant commissioning engineer, and the maintenance and operations engineering technician, it’s clear that the work of the Independent Assessment Service has become business as usual. In fact the team are currently conducting the end-point assessment for the first set of dual fuel smart meter installer apprentices who are due to complete next month.

To ensure we fill the remaining vacancies, it is important the sector recognises that the blend of work in the pipeline is changing and new, more innovative and productive techniques will require a different mix of skills in the future.

Of those students leaving university in 2014, over 2,200 decided to join the energy and utilities sector, with just over half choosing a career in the power industry.  The top three job areas they joined were engineering, customer service and business related associate professionals. What innovative solutions should we be exploring that can enable us to attract more graduates into the more technical roles within the power sector?

The Independent Assessment Service has set a new standard for learning and assessment, supporting businesses to better align the industry’s occupational standards, training and development programmes, competence assessments and related qualifications; irrespective of whether they are applied to those starting their career through an Apprenticeship, or developing our existing workforce with career progression opportunities.

With the Independent Assessment Service and employers working together to find more innovative solutions, we can ensure businesses across the power sector establish an effective, efficient, streamlined approach to recruitment, training and assessment.

In the face of a changing Apprenticeship and skills landscape across the UK, this innovative service has given the sector a head-start with a tried and tested low-risk solution.