Until now, energy consumption has been stuck in the dark ages. Customers have become accustomed to noting down their meter readings in a dusty cupboard under their stairs and living with complicated bills with confusing prices.
Nowadays people expect hassle-free billing and accurate information. Already millions of customers have taken control of their energy use (4.89 million according to the latest government figures) with electricity and gas readings instantly sent to their suppliers and costs being clearly displayed in their homes onscreen in pounds and pence.
This upgrade goes far beyond an end to estimated bills and money savings. The smart meter network is a vital component of the future’s “smart economy”. Data from these meters will enable a smart grid – the flexible energy system needed to support a greater use of renewables, electric vehicles, battery storage systems and much more. But amidst the excitement of technology evangelists, we need to make sure this energy upgrade results in an upgrade of skills, jobs and opportunities across Britain.
We already have around 5,000 installers; however this isn’t enough to meet the goal of offering every home a smart meter by 2020 – we predict that we need to recruit another 6,000 over the next 12-18 months and therefore the recruitment programme needs to rapidly accelerate.
Organisations are becoming increasingly hungry to secure the best installers, which means there is a huge opportunity for those wishing to enter the sector: people with the ability to enter someone’s home, deliver a safe installation and great customer experience and then convey the vital knowledge of how to make SMART be smart.
On the face of it, a job in smart metering may seem short term given the 2020 milestone but there are plenty of other opportunities available in our sector and adjacent sectors to up-skill into other career pathways. This perception is something that the sector are very keen to address and the National Skills Academy for Power has been working with industry to create solutions to address this.
Following roll-out a smart meter installer could have the opportunity to work in renewable energy technology, electrification of transport, connected homes or even the ‘Internet of Things’. It makes sense for everyone involved in the programme to think creatively about how a multi-generational market with varying degrees of skills can become the smart engineers of the future. There are various routes to becoming an installer, from an apprentice through to up-skilling progression routes, determined on the prior skills and experience of each applicant.
Demand for skilled workers is increasing at the very time that employees are leaving the industry. 20 per cent of the entire sector workforce is due to retire in the next ten years. Energy & Utility Skills estimate that over 200,000 new recruits will be needed in this period. Almost 40 per cent of vacancies are hard to fill due to a lack of skilled applicants – higher than any other area of the economy.
The benefits of smart energy will only be realised if governments, policy makers, regulators, industry, key stakeholders and the critical supply chain all work together to address the challenge, and collectively promote the value of careers in this vital sector to society.
We need a massive recruitment and training drive – inspiring a new generation with the promise of skilled and rewarding jobs in the smart economy.