tom hopkinson

Breaking down barriers: Universal Passports could reduce skills shortages

Always wanting to think out of the box, in his latest blog Tom Hopkinson highlights a novel suggestion already being developed by Renewable UK amongst others for resolving the international skills shortage in the renewable energy industry: a Universal Passport scheme.
Breaking down barriers: Universal Passports could reduce skills shortages

I believe a Universal Passport scheme could revolutionize the way skills and talent are distributed across international borders, and will solve many of the skills shortages and recruiting headaches the industry suffers from today.

In short, we need a system which effectively standardizes renewable energy qualifications, allowing contract engineers, mechanics, technicians and other skilled labourers to move freely between countries, without the need to re-train. I know Renewable UK and The National Skills Academy for Power are already in discussions about just such a scheme, and we all look forward to seeing how it pans out.

Currently a lack of standardization is compounding national and international skills shortages in the renewable sector, as the flow of talent is restricted across Europe. It also costs multi-national energy companies, developers and manufacturers millions of Euros/Pounds each year in training fees, an unwelcome overhead in times of economic hardship.

A Universal Passport system will deliver a number of tangible, long lasting benefits to the sector. For a start, it will allow recruitment companies to provide international contract services to clients and candidates. This will help plug short term skills gaps by providing access to a properly accredited, international workforce.

The industry is already leaning towards a ‘contract culture,’ a cost effective solution for employers looking to reduce their operational overheads, and often a more attractive arrangement for candidates. Short term employment allows contractors to move freely between jobs, giving them the opportunity to travel, and negotiate lucrative day rates. However, for such a culture to blossom, we need to ensure talent can pass freely between borders, and this is where the Universal Passport will come into its own.

The passport system will also help overcome seasonal disparities, particularly maintenance and operations work on offshore wind farms. Maintenance phases are usually planned in the summer, when demand for service engineers spikes. In the winter, fewer ‘weather windows’ produces the opposite effect, resulting in a loss of work, and phases of short term unemployment. As the renewable industry continues to globalise, the Universal Passport will allow maintenance contractors to travel to Southern Europe, Africa or the Far East to look for work during these quiet winter periods.

The end result is a more stable and lucrative working environment for contract workers. This in turn makes the renewable sector a more attractive career options for graduates, helping mitigate the risk of skills shortages in the future.

The passport system can and should be extended to encourage the flow of workers between sectors as well as borders. For instance, we should be encouraging a flow of staff between the oil and gas sector and offshore wind, enabling each industry to share best practice, staff resources and ultimately, knowledge. This will save the offshore wind sector millions over the long term, as many skills and resources will be there on tap, rather than relying on expensive and time hungry training & development schemes.

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