Utilities tap into help over skills shortage

Chief executives from some of the UK’s leading utility companies have called for government assistance to combat a serious skills shortage in the industry.

Utilities companies including RWE Thames Water and EDF Energy have urged the skills and vocational education minister, Phil Hope, to address the lack of funding for apprenticeships for people aged 24 and over in the sector.

A lack of new engineering and network maintenance recruits has meant that older employees are not being replaced – resulting in a potentially serious threat to services such as power and water.

RWE Thames Water chief executive, Bill Alexander, said: “We urgently need an influx of new engineers [and] people with the right technical skills doing vital work at street level.”

Public funding is already in place for welfare-to-work programme Ambition: Energy, delivered through sector skills council Energy & Utility Skills. However, many companies have complained that the programme concentrates on the gas industry at the expense of electricity and water. It is also regarded as basic training, whereas many companies need to recruit more advanced ‘craftspeople’. The utilities sector has pioneered its own training schemes, but the shortage of recruits is too severe to be resolved without government help.

Managing director of electricity company Central Networks, Bob Taylor, said: “We need the government to provide more support for prospective engineers and skilled craftspeople, and to work with industry to develop credible solutions.”

The companies are lobbying the government through a media campaign launched last month by industry magazine Utility Week. It aims to secure government funding for apprenticeships in addition to raising awareness about the benefits of working for a utility company.

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