Utilising digital skills to tackle climate change

The UK has placed a renewed focus on reaching net-zero emissions, with a recent Government pledging to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 enshrined into law. However, tackling the challenge of climate change is no easy task for governments nor organisations, and needs to be met with workforces that possess the varied digital skills necessary to implement this transformation.

According to Trades Union Congress, the UK is reported to be significantly behind other G7 countries when it comes to green infrastructure investment, trailing by £12 billion in comparison to the likes of the United States which has invested more than £970 billion into green recovery. That said, a recent investment was made as part of the UK’s Ten Point Plan, pledging to create more green jobs and help kickstart the economy again following the worst of the pandemic.

Despite the UK’s recent investment into green jobs, sectors such as oil, gas, nuclear and renewables are still currently facing a skills deficit. A survey by PwC reported that 76% of respondents from the energy, utilities and resources space expressed concern about the availability of digital skills currently on offer. The rapid digitisation of these sectors is requiring employees with competencies in areas such as AI, machine learning, data analysis, robotics, and many other new technologies. Across the board, many of the current occupations are likely to be impacted by digitisation; roles such as a miner, driller, or machinery operator could soon be replaced by an intelligent machinery technician or even a drone pilot.

For that reason, the ongoing skills crisis in the energy sector shouldn’t be overlooked: according to OGUK, a leading representative body for the UK’s offshore oil and gas industry, up to 30,000 jobs could be lost over the next 12-18 months due to automation if a solution isn’t found for the skills deficit. With the ongoing acceleration to net-zero and the UK’s goals for green recovery, now is the time to arm employees with the skills necessary for the future of work.

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Skills of the future

The worldwide energy industry is currently facing a number of political, economic and societal challenges which could be detrimental to the planet. A growing shortfall in oil supply, a 25% increase in energy demand by 2040, and the dramatic rise in electricity are all proving problematic. This is coupled with rapid digitisation and the need to meet sustainability goals, causing further pressures. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the timeline for energy companies, with many unprepared for what’s to come. To capitalise on the shifting paradigms, governments and businesses must make an important investment into upskilling as competition for cutting-edge talent continues to grow.

Upskilling is crucial to the major transition that the energy industry is currently going through. A 2020 report by EY on Oil and Gas Digital Transformation, found that 43% of respondents cite “too few workers with the right skills in the current workforce” as a major challenge to digital technology adoption. Upskilling will not only equip workers with new skills but also enable organisations to reach their digital transformation goals. By embracing the rapid change of innovation with upskilling, employers can take a proactive and agile approach to keep workforces engaged and employees focused on their own personal development.

It’s not to say the skills that current workers hold are not useful for today’s needs, as many in energy industries possess transferable skills. Workers typically possess foundational knowledge in STEM fields and soft skills which can be integrated seamlessly into newer applications. For example, skills in the oil, gas and coal sectors can be brought into the growing renewable energy sector, offering a huge rise in job opportunities. Therefore, having a thorough upskilling program will help to facilitate this shift and bridge the skills gap.

Meeting climate ambitions

Commitment to upskilling will not only benefit the good of the organisation, but also of the planet. The fact of the matter is that time is running out for green recovery, especially with ambitious Government goals to reach net-zero. The UK will need to recruit hundreds of thousands of individuals into the energy sector, as the National Grid reports that 400,000 new jobs will be required by 2050.

Upskilling and reskilling has the potential to boost global productivity by 3% by 2030, ensuring that individuals have the skills and experience needed for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This enhanced productivity will ultimately help to encourage innovation and aid in combating issues that are currently threatening our current quality of life, such as CO2 levels, deforestation and global warming.

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Holding organisations accountable

Emerging technologies are only as good as the people who use them, and therefore the skills revolution needs to start at the top with leadership. In order for firms to catalyse change, they need to embrace upskilling to inspire the talent of the future and create new avenues for innovation. The firms that foster a growth mindset rather than a fixed one will be the ones that thrive beyond the pandemic. Creating opportunities for new and existing workforces will see companies reap the rewards in the months and years to come. The return on investment from upskilling can be hugely remunerative, projecting savings or revenue of $2 for every dollar invested.

The post-pandemic landscape of the energy industry will rely on the extensive application of emerging technologies. As firms find their feet again, they need to seize the opportunity to equip themselves with a multi-skilled and flexible workforce, particularly as the sector evolves towards more digitally-enabled operations. Governments and organisations need to act quickly to deliver against net-zero commitment and prevent lasting unemployment for citizens.

Written by Sam Schofield, vice-president for EMEA & APAC at Udacity

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