Job generation

As the UK prepares to increase energy capacity, plans for new generators and a clean-up of existing facilities promise a jobs bonanza for engineers. Julia Pierce reports.


Despite environmental pressure on companies and individuals to use less energy, demand for electricity is soaring in the UK.

In last year’s Energy White Paper, the government estimated that about 20-25GW of new generation would be required by 2020. Since then the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has announced plans for more than 14GW of new generation capacity, which will create significant employment opportunities for skilled engineers.

Meanwhile, further demand for engineers is being created by those in charge of cleaning up existing facilities.

‘Today the world’s electricity markets are undergoing major changes with an increase in demand, the introduction of deregulation, power trading and new standards for environmental emissions,’ said Angela Osborne, human resources manager at power sector equipment and services provider Alstom.

‘This has created a need for flexible strategies for future growth, embracing optimised generation assets, improved power plant revenues, extended plant life, increased output at lower cost and reduced emissions. This dynamic and exciting market place demands pioneering engineers to create innovative solutions.’

Alstom Steam Turbines Retrofit has supplied more than 770 state-of-the art retrofit solutions worldwide, and more than 300 of these were for third-party machines. These have increased plant output and efficiency, extended plant life and reduced emissions.

The company is at the forefront of new technology in the development of steam path, frame architecture, component design and material development, with each solution being tailor-made to meet the customer’s needs and specifications. In the last year Alstom has taken on more than 10,000 new employees.

‘Our goal is to ensure that the men and women who make up Alstom, and who are our most valuable asset, are given a positive working environment, career prospects and training bolstered by clear company values, ethics and profit-sharing opportunities in line with their expectations,’ said Osborne.

‘Our employees’ commitment is a cornerstone of our overall performance, underpinned by three core values we have made our own: trust, team, and action.

‘We are looking to recruit about 50 individuals who possess specialist engineering skills in such areas as rotordynamics, stress analysis and turbine design engineering as well as sharing our concern for the international environment, and who enjoy the fast pace of an exciting, dynamic global company.’

Phil Bowley, manager of the electrical and control team at RWEnpower, Swindon, said: ‘Across the electrical supply industry we need to replace ageing plants in view of environmental pressures requiring us to reduce CO2 emissions. Many facilities are between 20 and 40 years old, and even those that have already been modernised have perhaps 10 to 15 years of operational life left.’

His company is seeking a range of engineers with experience in the electrical supply industry, particularly electrical engineers, as well as control engineers from both within and outside the power industry.

‘The power industry is creating a lot of exciting opportunities for our business worldwide, particularly in the EU and the UK,’ said Malla Reddy, vice-president of international operations for global engineering and construction company Fluor’s Power Group.

The company provides engineering, construction and maintenance services to clients in industries including power, oil and gas, chemical, mining and infrastructure, and has developed a successful track record in the design, construction and commissioning of power projects around the world, including traditional fossil fuelled, renewable and nuclear plants.

It is recruiting engineers and designers from all disciplines with various levels of experience, including project managers, planners and cost and schedule control specialists. ‘The EU region alone is expected to need about an additional 60 to 70GW of power over the next 10 to 12 years, according to some estimates,’ said Reddy. ‘To meet such a demand, significant resources will have to be deployed.’

Certainly, the long-term future of the industry looks secure. RWEnpower’s Bowley said: ‘In the electricity supply industry it takes time to develop a site, meaning that once you take into account planning and building, these are all long-term projects. It’s about as secure as any job you can have.

‘Energy is essential, so the industry is less cyclical than others in terms of recruitment and expansion. However, the current level of activity is very high and it’s a good time to join.’

Fluor’s Reddy added: ‘We are already involved in conducting some very exciting front-end studies, such as post-combustion carbon capture on gas-fuelled and coal-fuelled power plants aimed at producing greener power generation for some clients in the region.

‘We are known for executing challenging and technically demanding projects that offer good opportunities for career advancement and international experience.’

Drax Power is investing in two strategic carbon abatement projects — a £80m biomass co-firing project and £100m turbine upgrade. It is seeking control and instrumentation technicians and electrical or mechanical engineers with a degree and a minimum of two years’ relative experience to the power industry, particularly people with a background in petro-chemicals or power generation equipment.

‘We offer accelerated growth, a buoyant energy market and priority management of talent and succession planning,’ said Philippa Bogle, recruitment and development manager.

‘We also have a positive, friendly culture and a high level of investment in and care of people. All functions and departments are on one site, aiding decision-making and providing visibility of all aspects of the business.’

Meanwhile, subject to a final decision from the government on the future of new build, the nuclear sector is also planning to recruit. British Energy hires about 400 staff each year, though this could increase as it intends to secure a pivotal role in any building programme. ‘We seek engineers from all disciplines — control and instrumentation, mechanical, electrical, chemical engineers, civil, general engineering and so forth,’ said Elizabeth Haigh, recruitment specialist for the British Energy Group. ‘Across the organisation we have a wide variety of roles and we recruit people with diverse experience.

‘We are looking for good communication skills, problem- solving skills, strong project-management skills, high professional standards — people who are passionate about making a powerful contribution, not just to the company, but to the economy and the environment.’

As well as responding to the government’s invitation to bring forward plans for new nuclear power stations, British Energy is also seeking staff to replace those due to retire. As the sector is likely to expand, the long-term prospects for staff look secure.

Sarah Johnson, British Energy’s head of organisational development, said: ‘New nuclear build is on the horizon and British Energy plan to be part of that future. This will offer significant and challenging opportunities for future career development in an industry with a bright future. We believe that it’s always good to bring fresh talent into the organisation.

‘Like many other organisations in the manufacturing sector, we have an ageing workforce, so need to refresh our workforce as our older employees retire.’

She said there is a diversity of career options, offering opportunities for personal growth and technical challenges. Recent focus groups described the company’s culture as supportive, with people at all levels interested in what individuals are working on and how they are progressing.

‘Everyone is very helpful and if you need advice there are always others more than willing to help. Also, we believe our salaries and benefits are some of the best in the industry.’

As well as more traditional roles, the sector also affords engineers the chance to work at the cutting edge of research. Given environmental concerns and fusion power’s potential to provide a virtually inexhaustible source of clean, safe energy, Europe has approved a fast-track approach to fusion research.

Culham Science Centre conducts fusion research using tokamak-type devices and has two tokamaks. JET is the world’s largest and Europe’s flagship experiment. MAST is the UK’s national contribution to the international fusion research programme. Both are shortly scheduled for upgrades and enhancements.

Simon Warder, group leader, Culham West Power Supplies, said: ‘To make a tokamak work it is necessary to maintain precise control of the multi-megawatt electrical pulses needed by magnets, particle accelerators and radio frequency generators.

‘Each of the two tokamaks at Culham has a large number of such power supplies, ranging in power from less than 1MW to more than 200MW.

‘We are seeking electrical engineers and power electronics engineers who are able to think beyond ordinary industrial technology and meet the extraordinary engineering demands of fusion research.

‘We need additional engineers to specify new power supply equipment, project-manage its procurement, installation and commissioning. We also require engineers to work on the refurbishment of existing equipment and to support the operation and maintenance activities.’

Warder said applicants should have experience of, or a strong interest in, power electronics at the multi-megawatt level. ‘Most of our engineers work on a range of systems and at all stages of the lifecycle of a project, so a willingness to work from the earliest conceptual design through to final commissioning and then to provide the ongoing operational support is very desirable,’ he added.

‘Such complex systems rely on close teamwork and mutual support, so an ability to work well work with colleagues and a team approach to problem solving is important. The background of such applicants could range from university laboratory experience to a power utility; engineers working in power electronics and wishing to broaden their skill base are particularly welcome.’

As well as working with scientists on sophisticated energy research, both facilities will also contribute data to the ITER international fusion experiment in France, which will be ready to operate in 2018.

While recent events at Kingsnorth in Kent have shown that plans to secure Britain’s energy future can generate controversy, engineers joining or working within the power sector — whether they are cleaning up facilities, building new plants or helping engineer future generation methods — will have personal involvement in helping to combat climate change.

‘British Energy Group is the UK’s largest producer of electricity and the lowest carbon emitter of the major UK electricity generators,’ claimed British Energy’s Haigh. ‘Not only would you be working for a company that is making a lasting contribution to the future energy needs of the UK, it’s also rewarding to know that your work is helping to reduce the UK’s CO2 emissions.’