'Skills crisis in energy sector'

East Anglia will miss out on thousands of new jobs in the fast-growing energy sector because of a skills crisis, industry experts warned yesterday.

East Anglia will miss out on thousands of new jobs in the fast-growing energy sector because of a skills crisis, industry experts warned yesterday.

The region is already playing an important part in supplying the energy needs of the UK through offshore gas, nuclear power and renewables such as windfarms.

And this role will grow following the Government's energy review which will see more gas imported into the UK via Bacton, an expansion of nuclear power opening the possibility of a Sizewell C power station, and a huge investment in renewable energy including more windfarms.

The new developments are expected to bring thousands of new jobs to the region, in the development, construction and operation of new facilities.

But Joanna Woolf, chief executive of skills agency Cogent, said a demographic timebomb was ticking as the workforce in the region's energy sector aged and the supply of prime- age workers declined.

She said the East of England would miss out on the jobs up for grabs if its workforce did not have the necessary skills and if more was not done to encourage more youngsters to enter the industry.

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Mrs Woolf told delegates at the East of England Energy Group's (Eeegr) annual conference in Norwich that global demand for energy was growing and new technologies were emerging.

She said: “Right across the sector, be it nuclear, oil and gas or renewables, we need to recruit, retrain and retain. We aim to appeal to the young, make it easier for people to join from outside the industry and upskill and develop the current workforce.

“We've already made some important steps forward but it's important that employers get involved and that we adopt a joined-up approach to create a world-class energy industry in the region.”

Research carried out into the energy sector found that the region's companies needed to recruit between 50 and 100 new technicians a year just to maintain the status quo, but that many found it hard to attract new blood into the industry.

John Best, chief executive of Eeegr, which supports and promotes the region's energy industry, said the region had the potential to be a world leader in energy if the skills crisis could be averted.

He said: “Skills shortages are being felt in every part of the region's energy industry with 28pc of workers due to retire in the next 10 years and only 5pc of the workforce under 25.

“This region is a land of energy opportunity but without the workforce those opportunities may well head off to other parts of the world and instead of being world leaders, we will be also-rans.

“Skills for Energy is the key to averting the skills crisis which will limit our ambitions.”

Mrs Woolf was at the conference at the John Innes Centre to launch the Skills for Energy programme, which is aimed at plugging the skills gap.

The programme has been awarded £500,000 in European funding to support training for 300 businesses and 450 employees.