In this first in a series of industry interviews, Ben Kilbey CCO at Britishvolt, talks to Dr. Benjamin Silverstone, Programme Lead at U.K. Electrification Skills Framework on the huge opportunities for future-proofed employment that the energy transition will bring.
Too much negativity has been projected towards that fact that there won’t be enough employees to meet the needs of the growing battery industry and other carbon neutrality focused businesses. In this honest, straight shooting and educational interview, Dr Silverstone debunks the myths and outlines the massive amounts of positivity that can be created by the move to a renewable future on the roadmap to net zero.
Q. How important is the energy transition to the future of employment in the UK?
A. “This is the single biggest shift in the UK labour market in a generation and paves the way for a huge increase in highly skilled roles in a number of areas that support electrification in the UK. We, quite rightly, need to pay attention to roles that are at risk as a result of the transition but this is hugely outweighed by the range of opportunities that it presents. We need to take the time to look at roles that need to change and put in place routes to achieve that in a timely and effective manner. What cannot be underestimated is how important making this transition successfully is going to be in the UK. We have the opportunity to be global leaders in this space and we certainly have the capability and innovation to do so. To deliver at scale is where the work needs to take place and where we will either make it as a world leader or not.”
Q. People often talk about the lack of skilled workers as a threat, surely it’s an opportunity to, as you say, up-skill, re-skill and new-skill?
A. “In any new transition there is a skills need, I am hesitant to call it a lack, it is a need. However, the subtle nuance of viewing it as an opportunity, rather than a threat, is an important one. Electrification is a clear growth area and one that will carry forwards for decades to come. Therefore, it is a huge opportunity to do what the UK has never been able to do before and put in place a proactive skills approach that will grow as the sector grows. It is also our opportunity to create equality within the system by ensuring that no dead ends are left in progression and that people can realise their career ambitions within electrification. I am keen that we focus on building careers, not jobs.”
Q. Do you think there needs to be more positivity surrounding the need for mass employment associated with the energy transition?
A. “Definitely, this is a huge opportunity for so many people. We should be presenting careers in electrification as skilled, exciting, dynamic and with a future. This is our opportunity to educate young people on the types of opportunities that they have and how a rapidly changing technology base can create opportunities that we cannot even see yet. Unfortunately, the media, and society, often paint a bleak picture of employment opportunities in the UK driven primarily by the shift to a service economy started in the 1980s. What we see here is a shift back to highly skilled manufacture and production of high technology systems that are required for the future of our society. The future of UK employment is actually hugely positive, what we need to do is get better at articulating and championing this.”
Q. How important is it to teach children from a young age about climate change, batteries and the energy transition to prepare them for the employment of the future?
A. “I think this is very important. There does tend to be a focus on the negative when it comes to educating young people about climate change. What we need to focus on more are the solutions that can be brought to bear and their role in doing so. Young people can be ambassadors for the energy transition and if we can establish this within the curriculum taught in schools, we stand a chance.”
Q. How important is it to teach business about the importance of diversity and inclusion?
A. “This is a very important area that goes hand in hand with the electric revolution. As we rush to get back to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic we are faced with an opportunity to decide what the “new normal” can be. Inherent within the energy transition is a strong set of social responsibilities, not just to the planet, but to one another. I see this as an opportunity for businesses to rethink their approaches to career progression, recruitment, workplace cultures and everything else that defines the world of work. We have proved that flexible working is more than capable of supporting business, we have proved that where someone grows up and what education they have had does not necessarily dictate their future capabilities. In the same way that we can properly plan for the skills shift created by energy transition we have the opportunity to dictate what being an employer in that space looks like.”
Q. Is this one of the biggest opportunities you’ve seen in your career/life to date?
A. “Yes, without a doubt. A few years ago, I remember telling friends that I would not like to be a young person growing up today. Career uncertainty, social upheaval and injustice seemed to be rife. However, I think we now have a once in a generation opportunity to press the reset button and show the current generation how exciting the future is actually going to be.”
Q. Finally, how important are projects such as the Britishvolt FutureGen Foundation [aimed at upskilling the workforce] to the future of employment in the UK headed into energy transition?
A. “In the same way as the National Electrification Skills Framework I think that these sorts of initiatives are critical. It is wrong to assume that because the Government have set the strategic direction through policy that industry and academia can sit back and wait to be told what to do. Initiatives like these provide a tangible response to policy and show Government how we are going to respond and meet the mandate that has been set for us. Watching industry take a proactive stance to building UK skills capacity is wonderful and is one of the ways that we can actually “build back better” by creating an industry base that invests in socially responsible projects. It isn’t just skills that are the future, it is the ability to act to bring them about and then bring them to bear. That is what our future will be founded on.”