RCEM: Views on Energy News

Franco-British Energy Conference

Meeting The UK Energy Challenges - Partners In Action

London, October 29 2013

Presentation by Dr. Patrick GOUGEON

ESCP Europe, UK Director

Franco-British Energy Conference

Meeting The UK Energy Challenges - Partners In Action

London, October 29 2013


The shortage of engineering skills to meet the energy industry demand is a well established statement, particularly in the UK[1]. Even if they differ as to the estimated size of the gap the many reports on that issue all conclude that for the coming years the number of graduates will not be sufficient to meet the growing needs due to the redeployment of the energy system. The reason for that is also well known: because of weaknesses in maths, too few students can access to STEM[2] programmes. Unfortunately however, even if remedial actions are taken now it will take years before an impact on the outflow of engineering graduates is effective. So, what can be done now? 

To start with, one needs to reflect on the real size of the gap between recruitment needs and the availability of appropriate skills. It depends on what energy companies consider as appropriate. We suspect that they tend to adopt a narrow view which worsens the unbalance. 

  • Are companies too elitist?

Large well established companies, with a tradition of excellence, would consider they can only recruit first class honours…making scarcity worse. Outstanding engineers might be excellent in their area of specialisation, but their academic performance does not tell much about their managerial skills. This technological elite may not be that good to work in a global complex business environment where the capacity to listen and learn from others, communicate and accept differences are key success factors.  Second, third level class honours or even ordinary graduates might also perfectly fit if they are endowed with the managerial skills which recruiters tend to underweight, although it corresponds to a fundamental need for large organisations.

Actually, it seems that difficulties encountered by energy companies do not relate so much to a lack of technological skills, but rather to mismanagement resulting in badly run projects causing delays, cost overrun and sometimes excessive risk taking. In other words there is also a shortage of management skills certainly due to a bias in the recruitment policy

  • The dominance of an engineering culture may also lead to narrow down the population energy companies can recruit from.

Business schools also attract a lot of bright people….but indeed these are not engineers, and most of them did not acquire the basic knowledge needed to take part in technological projects - This remark would also apply to many other domains in higher education. But in fact, a good proportion of these have a good background in maths - which counts a lot in the selection process of business schools - and are well fitted for a fast intensive learning track. Not to become engineers indeed, but to know enough to be active and creative members in a project team.

Would this be recognised and deemed workable it would dramatically expand the recruitment possibilities as well as bringing diversity across the work force which is recognised as a major driver for change.

Few recommendations to conclude

  • The first recommendation follows directly from the above remarks, companies should broaden their scope when looking for human resources allowing for a wide range of personalities and academic profiles
  • But for their recruitment energy companies are facing competition from other sectors and therefore they also need to work their attractiveness. On the one hand, looking at the future, the amazing challenges they meet contribute to their appeal. But on the other hand, according to various surveys they suffer from a negative image inherited from the past.  There are good reasons to believe we are now at a turning point[3], yet the energy industry will have to compete with other promising domains (such as IT or banking). In particular there is a need to reflect on the remuneration policy and how to deal with career progression.
  • To attract the best candidates they should also count on academic networks....not just building close relations with elite engineering schools. As a professor I like to claim: in us they trust! Meaning that faculty teams constitute a link between companies and students. As such they represent a most efficient communication network for recruiters and are generally quite open to all types of cooperation. Employability of students is a key objective for academics, therefore developing programmes that fit well with corporate needs is crucial and companies are welcome to cooperate. This is an opportunity that energy companies should be well aware of and seize.

 



[1] See: Energy production and utilities: Sector Skills Assessment 2012, UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), Briefing paper, October 2012
[2] STEM: Sciences Technology Engineering Maths
[3] "The sector is seen to have a poor image among young people, however it is recognised that we are at a turning point in the sector with some very powerful tools to change this.", in: Assessment of high level skills shortages in the energy industry, Energy Research Partnership.  http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CDMQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.energyresearchpartnership.org.uk%2Fdl17&ei=fgZ5UtD1I4aL7AbavIGICg&usg=AFQjCNHIJJPPgjrLQzO0GWtlEYYfd14yRg&bvm=bv.55980276,d.ZGU

 

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