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Earlier this month, the Prime Minister announced a plan to make substantial investment in clean energy and an aim to power all UK homes by wind energy by 2030, putting a green recovery at the heart of the government’s post-coronavirus economic strategy.
As Head of Energy at Newcastle College, I welcome the ‘Build Back Greener’ plan and the opportunities it will bring for the North East – a region central to the UK’s offshore wind sector.
Further investment in the industry will create thousands of skilled jobs over the next ten years. Fantastic news. But it comes with challenges that only colleges like ours can overcome.
In July, I addressed a government roundtable on ‘Skills for a Green Recovery and Net Zero’.
Hosted by Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, the virtual meeting brought together voices from the world of energy to discuss the challenges of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
My contribution to the discussion focused on the growing skills gap in low carbon industries and the role that colleges will play in training and retraining the right people to fill that gap – which is vital if we are to achieve this ambitious target.
Offshore wind and renewable energy is one of the North East’s fastest growing industries and a priority area for continued investment and growth, even before the latest government plans were announced.
Newcastle College is already leading the charge in training a new generation of engineers for the sector here in our region. We have invested into our dedicated Energy Academy since it opened in 2012 and me and my team have worked hard to forge valuable partnerships with local industry that really benefit students.
Our students benefit from state-of-the-art training facilities, including one of the world’s most advanced immersive Hybrid Reality (iHR) wind turbine training platforms thanks to our relationship with ORE Catapult. They also have access to a real subsea trenching machine and port facilities, thanks to an innovative partnership with Port of Blyth. This is vital training infrastructure that would otherwise cost millions of pounds to invest in.
In order to ensure these future engineers are equipped with the right skills, we ensure that all of our tutors have relevant industry experience and we are lucky to have a talented and experienced team here at the Energy Academy. It can be something that is difficult to do – persuading those with high-paying industry salaries to turn to teaching – but it is vital and this is an area in which colleges would really benefit from government support.
The College is here not only to train the next generation of engineers for the industry, but to help upskill those already working within the industry. We sit at the heart of the North East’s energy hub and we work closely with our neighbours to ensure their workforce remains at the top of their game.
Finally, it’s important that those currently at risk of losing their jobs within related sectors (particularly the oil and gas industry) are able to transition to roles within renewable energy. Further education colleges are the right place to quickly and efficiently retrain these already skilled and experienced engineers, we just need the resources to create and deliver the right courses.
Newcastle College is part of NCG, a group of seven colleges spread throughout the UK. NCG has a commitment to reduce its CO2 emissions by 50% by 2030. Collectively we recognise that climate change is affecting everyone throughout the world and we must play our part in helping tackling this global problem.
We are ready to support the ‘Build Back Greener’ plan and achieve net zero, by ensuring the engineers of the future are work-ready and equipped with the skills and experience demanded by this growing industry. With further government support, we can ensure we continue to develop the right training to be delivered by the right people.