Companies across the sector have a duty to help the 2,600 people who set to be made redundant by Ovo Energy, the chief executive of Energy and Utility Skills has argued.

Ovo announced proposals this morning (19 May) to accelerate the integration of SSE’s retail arm, citing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and changing consumer behaviours.

Nick Ellins told Utility Week that he believes there is an opportunity for the sector to fill the much-needed vacancies that will be highlighted in his organisation’s forthcoming skills strategy to be published next month.

Ellins said there is in the region of 250,000 roles to be filled within the energy and utilities sphere and that the biggest priority at the moment is how to ensure skilled people are not lost by the sector.

He added: “If a company finds itself in a situation where it is talking about the scale of layoffs they are talking about, the social impact is significant. So it’s incumbent, first of all, on the utility sector to come together and do whatever they can to repurpose those people who are impacted. These are real lives, real mortgages at stake, real salaries, and Ovo will know that. All other utilities will know it.

“With Carillion, everybody jumped into the breach. Even if they could help 4 or 5 people, they did something. It’s incumbent on us all to help Ovo to repurpose those people and give them new careers because we are just about to come out with a skills strategy that says we desperately need a bigger workforce.”

Sue Ferns, deputy general secretary at the Prospect Union, agreed with Ellins and said the increased demand for skilled workers needs to be met, not least to hit the 2050 net zero carbon target.

Speaking to Utility Week, she said: “The energy sector has got a problem with its demographic, it’s got a problem with its relative lack of diversity in the workforce and its also got an issue with a change in skills mix. It needs more data driven skills as well.

“We all know and accept that changes need to happen. The energy companies really need to be thinking not only about attracting their new workforce and new skills but how they can transition their existing workforce where maybe they don’t need them in exactly the same roles to do other roles within the sector.

“We think that’s really important and in fact it’s something that we argue should be taken into account in the next price control review because all the companies talk about the investment that they need to make in the physical infrastructure, which is right, but alongside that they need to be thinking about their investment in skills because without the skilled workforce they are not going to achieve their move towards decarbonisation.”

Ovo said it had seen a rapid shift towards its customers using online tools and that in April it had seen more than one million online transactions. At the same time it cited a 69 per cent drop in home service engineering work and a 92 per cent reduction in smart meter installations.

Chief executive Stephen Fitzpatrick described it as a “difficult day”, adding: “We have a brilliant team here and this news isn’t a reflection of anyone’s work. What should have been a much longer process to digitise the SSE business and integrate it with Ovo has been accelerated due to the impact of the coronavirus.”

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