Chris Train, chief executive, Cadent Energy networks, Gas transmission/distribution, Opinion, Chris Train, Cadent

“These are exciting times as we build our future as energy networks, but we must meet a very real skills challenge.”

When it comes to explaining what Cadent does, it is easy to start with a high-level answer and say we ensure gas reaches 11 million customers, safely and reliably.

 

It is not as easy to explain – unless you have several hours spare – the wide variety of work that goes into making that happen.

What can go unseen is that, on a daily basis, as well as keeping our assets in good working order, our highly competent field force is at the forefront of enabling growth and positive change for UK plc – at both a national and regional level.

Take the Thames Tideway project, the £4.2 billion project in the heart of London, which includes building a 25km-long tunnel and sewage offtake sites along the Thames. On the face of it, a water and sewage project – but Cadent is helping to make it happen.

We have so far diverted over 300 metres of some of the largest diameter pipes we have in London (30 and 36 inches) at six sites, and in prominent locations (such as Chelsea and Victoria Embankments) to move them away from the route of the new tunnel and offtakes.

We do an extraordinary and varied mix of work, and that means we need an extraordinary and varied team with the skills and capabilities to deliver.

These are exciting times as we build our future as energy networks, but we must meet a very real skills challenge. We are not just a gas business needing gas engineers – we also need engineers with mechanical, electrical and civil engineering expertise.

The Energy & Utilities Workforce Renewal and Skills Strategy 2020 tells us we will need 221,000 new recruits in the energy and utility sector during the next ten years. Numbers on that scale need a co-ordinated approach, which is why I am delighted to be part of the Energy and Utilities Skills CEO Partnership Board. This is the industry collaborating to make sure we face this challenge head-on, so we can attract the best talent.

At Cadent, we recently developed a new education and skills strategy that has at its heart a desire to inspire the emerging generation of engineers. We want to do more to apply STEM classroom learning to our work and offer opportunities for our engineers to connect with schools, and vice versa. It gives us focus to continue the learning from our association with this year’s fantastic Year of Engineering, having quality conversations and direct interactions with pupils.

And then, once they join, perhaps on apprenticeships, we must make sure we deliver on a promise to provide a great career – whether that is someone’s first career or a career change later in life. This year, Cadent was ranked the top UK company for apprentices to work for. What made this accolade from The Job Crowd extra special was that it was based on independent and anonymous ratings provided by existing apprentices.

I am passionate about the value of apprenticeships and Cadent’s board has committed to recruit at least 50 every year (plus our other schemes, including graduates). So I am proud we are giving them an experience and start to their careers that they have judged to be first rate. We must ensure we maintain that drive and passion in an ever-changing world with many opportunities, and therefore lots of competition.

One way we are doing that at Cadent is to rethink and restructure our professional offer to our field force. Under Hilary Buxton, our head of engineering, we have a new forum that is looking at development needs and standards in engineering.

This forum has its eye firmly on our future needs – whether that be adapting to increased use of hydrogen in our network, or using drones and robotic technology to inspect, maintain and fix our 130,000km of pipeline.

And part of that is making sure we capture the knowledge of those who have invested a lifetime working in our sector. They have experienced change and new ways of doing things, but it all comes back to keeping people safe and warm in their homes, as well as powering industry and fuelling transport, in a sustainable way.

As an industry, we have a lot to offer both this new, emerging, talented generation, and the current teams already making a difference every day.

Let’s shout more about the vital role we are playing in enabling clean growth and keeping energy flowing. Let’s make it the Year of Engineering every year.

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