With the potential bonanza of new nuclear on the horizon, coupled with a great deal of other existing work, the energy infrastructure sector is on the look-out for new recruits.
National Infrastructure Commission member Sir John Armitt last month said energy was “without doubt our most vital network”.
The role power supply plays in the delivery of transport, information technology and other infrastructure makes it the most important area of focus, said the man who was once trusted with delivering construction of the 2012 Olympic Games.
Currently president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Sir John is also leading a sub-committee of the NIC in drawing up a national needs assessment for infrastructure. If energy looks set to be a clear focus of that shopping list, it seems the government will not need a huge amount of convincing.
The spring 2016 update of the National Infrastructure Pipeline showed more than £250bn of power schemes planned, albeit more than half of these scheduled for post-2020/21.
Mott MacDonald hydro and renewables practice leader Rabah Saadi says a broad range of energy work is expected over the next year. “We will see refurbishment and maintenance works of the existing nuclear fleet, as well as enabling works for proposed new-build nuclear projects.
“We’ll also see grid asset management and upgrades, plus new transmission lines and associated substations for power export and distribution. The construction of renewables projects such as onshore and offshore wind, small hydro, solar, biomass and energy-from-waste will also continue.”
PwC engineering and construction leader Chris Temple says the new nuclear programme is a major area of potential skill shortages.
“The UK has not done new nuclear projects for some time and as a result we don’t have all the skills in place”
Chris Temple, PwC
“The UK has not done new nuclear projects for some time and as a result we don’t have all the skills in place,” he says.
“Added to that, both Wylfa and Hinkley Point are four to five hours’ drive from London so you don’t have a readily available group of people you can pick up and put down as you need them.
“As well as the upfront design skills, it is the technical skills that will be required, such as installing reactors. The further along we get with the projects, the more in demand the project managers and technical specialists will be.”
As well as the possibility of skills coming in from abroad, UK engineers are likely to come from other regions and sectors, according to Mr Temple.
“There is a lot of experience in the rail engineering sector, for example, from Crossrail and other projects, and some of these workers can be retrained to work in the energy infrastructure sector,” he says.
Mike Morgan, director at recruitment firm Hays Engineering, says technology skills are at a premium within the energy infrastructure sector.
“Some of the most sought-after skills within energy infrastructure are those held by power systems engineers with experience of specific software packages such as ETAP and PowerFactory,” he says.
“We’re undertaking hydropower schemes in Pakistan. There’s no bigger reward than realising the value of what you’re doing”
Rob Power, Mott MacDonald
“The demand for power engineers in some instances outstrips supply and the volume of power engineers required by organisations is creating a pinch-point in recruiting.”
To be a power systems engineer often requires a degree in electrical engineering as a base qualification, according to Mr Morgan. “Then some engineers continue their study to undertake a specific power systems MSc course to enhance their knowledge further.”
Mr Saadi’s aptly named colleague, recruitment manager for the energy sector Rob Power, points out how important STEM subjects are in energy infrastructure.
“We encourage students to take science, technology, engineering and maths, all of which come together and apply to the engineering and sciences of energy,” he says.
“This applies to all disciplines in the sector, from environmental and social scientists to economists, engineers, designers and site personnel.”
There are a range of social benefits to working in the sector, according to Mr Power. “Mott MacDonald is currently undertaking a number of large hydropower schemes in Pakistan.
“These schemes make a real difference and are such a crucial part of infrastructure, because without them no other infrastructure can come about. So not only does the energy sector help countries grow and develop, it improves people’s lives.
“There’s no bigger reward than realising the value of what you’re doing day-to-day.”
Added to this is the potential to earn in excess of £45,000 a year, Mr Morgan says. “An entry-level power engineer can usually expect to receive a salary of £24,000-£28,000, a senior engineer £35,000-£45,000 and a lead engineer £45,000 and upwards.”