UK utilities face huge collective skills gaps which will undermine their ability to maintain their essential services or deliver infrastructure growth unless they are addressed collaboratively, says Nick Ellins.

Collectively, the utilities sector is the largest single contributor to the UK-wide National ­Infrastructure Delivery Plan – a plan now recognised as the backbone of industrial strategy and a key pillar of economic growth. This plan will play an essential part in narrowing the productivity gap between the UK and our international competitors, and delivering it will require a skilled, competent and sustainable workforce.

The sector already employs around half a million people to deliver the essential services – heat, light, energy, water, sewerage and waste management – that approximately 65 million citizens use every day. Energy & Utility Skills predicts the sector will require a further 221,000 new recruits over the next ten years. This comprises 31,000 new jobs, 100,000 vacancies from existing employees that are set to retire and replacing 90,000 people who will leave for new roles.

As with many sectors in the UK, recruitment has not proved easy. Utility-based businesses often struggle to convey the importance and rewards of a career protecting public health and the environment and serving consumer and business needs – as little as 1 per cent of higher education leavers choose to come to the UK energy and utilities sector, and fewer than 5 per cent of engineering graduates move to employment in the utilities environment. The retail sector attracts twice as many science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) graduates.

The Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership has formed to end that disconnect. Leaders from across the UK utility-based businesses have been collaborating to build and launch what is the sector’s first workforce renewal and skills strategy.

The strategy initiates a set of sector-wide initiatives aimed at bringing fresh solutions to those skills areas testing employers most. As the Skills Partnership looks to improve sector resilience, workforce sustainability, safety, competence, innovation and sector attractiveness, it will also work to optimise efficiency, secure economies of scale and increase productivity.

The Skills Partnership is combining the views of employers to secure the right people, with the right skills and behaviours, in the right place, at the right time, at an affordable cost. It seeks to accelerate collaboration with governments, regulators and relevant audiences.

The achievement of success requires us all to work and act as one. This document begins the discussion, through providing a strategic framework that seeks to secure successful skills provision to 2020.