Pipe up, by Ian Pretty

“To create the workforce of the future, the sector will need to think beyond traditional approaches.”

Energy and utilities suppliers are tasked with working to protect the supply of energy, manage costs and consumer expectations while working to mitigate environmental impact. No easy task.

The industry needs to innovate, and this is well under way – the sector has embraced data analytics and cloud computing in combination with smart grids and smart metering. To address the longer term needs of the industry, this kind of innovation will have to be extended across the sector.

Consider the need for innovation within the workforce. Energy and Utility Skills estimates that the sector will need more than 200,000 new recruits by 2023 to keep pace with industry growth. It’s not just about replacing the existing workforce; it’s about developing a workforce that is flexible, and can learn new skills in specialisms that don’t exist yet.

The sector has often prioritised graduate recruitment, and there is no doubt that universities will continue to play a big role. Yet it is clear that to create the workforce of the future, the sector will need to think beyond traditional approaches

The further education (FE) sector is uniquely poised to offer a solution. As chief executive of Collab Group, an organisation that represents 36 of the largest colleges in the UK, I see how our colleges can work innovatively to deliver the training that industry needs. FE is in a period of exciting transformation as major reforms to technical education are helping to deliver a system that can give employers access to a new pipeline of highly skilled talent. The reforms to apprenticeships are equally significant – the government has committed to providing three million apprentices by 2020.

What is emerging is a new route by which the sector can access high-quality talent. The workforce of the future may be best served by undertaking apprenticeships and T-levels because these courses have been developed by and for employers.

Collab Group colleges recognise that the evolving context presents a huge opportunity as they are uniquely able to deliver an employer-designed curriculum that attracts a diversified range of talent, and at the same time leverages a flexible national delivery network. FE has a focus on skills and employability that the HE sector does not. FE is about jobs, providing opportunities, increasing life chances – embracing a long-term partnership will undoubtedly benefit the E&U sector for decades to come.