Energy boost

With the massive investment now taking place in the energy sector, there is a shortage of people to fill the jobs in all areas. Julia Pierce reports.


After decades of low investment, the UK energy business is suddenly at the forefront of activlty. Growth in Britain’s demand for energy means that by around 2015, another 30GW-35GW of power must be found each year to meet it.

Investment in schemes such as nuclear new-build, particularly as existing power stations reach the end of their life, and modern gas- and coal-fired plants by private companies, has meant hundreds of jobs are being created for engineers across the board.

Meanwhile, renewable energy provision is growing fast. According to wind power specialist Vestas Technology UK, more than £1bn is being spent on renewable generation alone in the UK each year.

As more than a third of the UK’s power stations are going out of service in the next 15 years, E.ON is investing billions of pounds to build the next generation of cleaner power stations. Examples of this include gas-fired power stations at the Isle of Grain in Kent, and the company has received approval to build a gas-fired power station at Drakelow in Derbyshire. It is also investing in new renewable technologies, including onshore and offshore wind power, wave and tidal power, and biomass.

Engineers, particularly those with mechanical and electrical skillset, and control and instrumentation specialists are being sought to fill the roles this is creating in the power generation business and in energy distribution.

Doosan Babcock Energy, created after Mitsui Babcock Energy was taken over by Doosan Heavy Industries 18 months ago, has been handed some ambitious growth targets, driven by the amount of work being created by programmes such as infrastructure replacement within conventional thermal power.

As a result, the company is particularly looking for mechanical and chemical engineers. ‘There is a lot of work chasing not enough people,’ said Lindsay Pritchard, human resources director at Doosan Babcock Energy. ‘We are particularly looking for people with specialist skills such as combustion, project engineering or planning.’

The company prides itself on having a pay for performance culture and good personal development opportunities.

‘There is good scope for long-term job security,’ Pritchard added. ‘We are at the forefront of oxy-fuel and clean coal technologies but can also offer international exposure if desired, as well as a position that suits each person’s strengths, whether that be an office-based job, research and development, or a place working on-site.’

Frazer-Nash Consultancy is a systems and engineering technology consultancy with seven offices across the country, from Plymouth to Glasgow. It aims to provide independent, impartial advice to customers in sectors including energy, with clients including British Energy.

The company’s business strategy consists of expanding its staff by 20 per cent each year, so it is actively seeking fresh employees.

‘Such expansion provides roles across the company,’ said Gary Lock, business manager. ‘We are always looking for people with flexible intelligence; inquiring technical experts who must also be customer focused

‘They need to be well-rounded individuals with good technical knowledge and also good customer skills. We want to attract people desiring early customer exposure.’

The company is looking for mechanical engineers, particularly those with marine, aeronautical and nuclear industry experience. Within these areas, skills needed include structures, fluid dynamics and acoustics. ‘It is especially hard to find people with previous experience in acoustics,’ Lock added.

Meanwhile, EDF Energy is recruiting for a variety of senior electrical positions, including design planners, CAD, field engineers, construction design managers and control engineers.

The company has more than 13,000 staff and provides power to a quarter of the UK’s population via electricity distribution networks in London, the south-east and the east of England. It supplies gas and electricity to about 5.5 million customers and generates about 5GW of energy from coal and gas power stations, as well as combined heat and power plants and wind farms.

‘We have a programme to reinforce ageing assets through our networks, and there is now a huge increase in the scope and size of EDF Energy’s key projects, including our work with the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympics Games and other major programmes across the south-east of England,’ said recruitment manager Richard Bieda. But despite perks such as a final salary pension scheme, staff are still hard to find, something being experienced by all companies within the energy sector.

‘We are looking for electrical engineers, preferably with sub- station experience,’ said Richard Heywood, UK manager at Doble PowerTest, which carries out electrical apparatus condition assessment of high-voltage substation and generator plants, minimising power failures.

‘But we simply do not have enough people to do the work that we have at the moment as people in the UK do not seem to want to go into electrical engineering.’

‘Recruiting senior engineers is becoming increasingly competitive,’ agreed EDF’s Bieda. ‘Because of the length, complexity and importance of our projects to the public, we need the commitment of permanent staff members… The rapidly changing focus to renewable energy has knock-on problems of finding engineers with appropriate level of skills and experience in this area.’

The gap between demand and supply of engineers is particularly wide in the renewable sector. The Government has put the UK on a path to reduce CO2 emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. Although renewable electricity now makes up almost five per cent of UK energy provision, the energy white paper aims to triple that to 15 per cent by 2015.

As a result there has been a substantial push to expand the country’s renewables provision, including government support for the building of the world biggest offshore wind farm, the London Array, and more than 20 other wind farms. Finding staff for such projects is a key challenge for power and energy providers.

One company involved in the London Array project is Vestas, which has a 23 per cent share of the modern energy market, its name for wind power. It is looking for staff, including a composite processing engineer, a composite material engineer, a composite structure engineer, tooling engineer, CAD design engineer and control engineer.

The company has installed 33,500 wind turbines worldwide, and each year reduces CO2 emissions by more than 40 million tonnes, according to its statistics. This year, it expects the 15,305 employees worldwide to welcome some 2,700 new colleagues as the demand for energy increases.

In 2007, 15GW of new wind capacity was added to the grid worldwide, equivalent to five nuclear power stations. Vestas provided over a quarter of this. ‘Wind cannot replace oil and gas in five, 10 or 20 years’ time. Nor will all the cars in the world run exclusively on electricity in the same period,’ said Rob Sauven, managing director. ‘However, the part modern energy plays in meeting the energy needs of this world safely is growing very fast. We install, on average, a new wind turbine every five hours.’

The company has installed turbines in 63 countries, has technology, research and production centres in Denmark, the US, the UK, India and Spain and aims to offer opportunities to transform the future of energy by joining its technology and research divisions.

According to the company’s vision policy, it is aiming to ensure wind power is seen as a source of energy on a par with oil and gas, which is why it needs the help of an increasing pool of skilled engineers to reach this goal.

Other renewable energy sources are also being expanded. ‘There are opportunities across the whole value chain,’ said David Newborough, head of human resources, energy services, at E.ON. ‘We are expanding our involvement in renewables as well as cleaner coal and conventional power plants. We also need research and development taking place behind this and we’re looking for people who are interested in action rather than words. This is the place to be in terms of business opportunities.’

He added that sustainability of the UK’s power supply was the driving force behind the company’s strategy. To help existing workers meet the new needs of the industry, the company invests a great deal in personal development of staff, including adult education and upskilling, and is actively working to improve diversity of its workforce.

‘There is a consensus that the engineering world is dominated by white males so we are working to change this,’ said Newborough. ‘There is a huge pool of untapped talent in the UK.’

Meanwhile, Siemens is looking to fill numerous vacancies in its renewables division, though the company also has work in power station maintenance and new build and control and instrumentation, where staff will be working with technologies at the build stage that will produce maximum efficiency.

The company plans to take on more than 3,000 people globally over the next three to five years, many of whom will be engineers.

‘We are looking for people across the spectrum,’ said Fraser Shearer, strategic head of resource management.

‘This is not only on the research and development side but particularly mechanical, electrical and design engineers and service managers, particularly those with practical customer skills, as many will be field-based working on turbines.’

As well as its general expansion plans, Frazer-Nash has been acquiring new business in the renewable energy sector, particularly marine power generation.

‘Marine renewables use traditional skills in a different application,’ said Lock. ‘In this area, we are picking up more work from our existing customer base as well as developing new business. As far as the nuclear industry goes, decommissioning is expanding and there is also the possibility of nuclear new build coming through.’

To attract the best candidates, the company offers a package that includes a bonus scheme linked to the company’s performance.

However, Lock maintained that one of the key advantages of working for a consultancy is the variety of work available.

‘This is why people come into consulting,’ said Lock. You hardly ever have the same day twice. The variation is a big attraction. There is also the opportunity to take responsibility at an early age. We have a strong, young team as well as a strong company identity.’

Given the importance of the energy and power generation sectors in ensuring the future sustainability of the country’s power supply, engineers choosing to work within this area should have access to a wide range of positions to suit their talents, as well as the security provided by knowing that expansion is set to continue for some time.

While those with previous experience will be the most highly sought after, companies such as E.ON are also investing heavily in providing new entrants with the requisite skills to meet current demand.

There are also the ethical credentials of working to improve the performance of an area that has a significant impact on the country’s carbon emissions.

By helping to develop or build and install renewable plants or clean energy technologies, engineers are having a direct impact on climate change.

‘This is one of the areas that can make a real difference in the world in terms of creating a low-carbon future,’ confirmed E.ON’s Newborough. ‘The power sector is the place to be if you want to have a hand in this.’