Energy experts warn of need to address skills shortage at top of industry as nation stalls on Net Zero 2045 sustainability targets

Professor Iain Black (University of Strathclyde)

URGENT action is needed to address a skills shortage at senior level in the Scottish/UK energy sector if the nation is to have a realistic chance of cutting emissions by 90% by 2045, industry experts have warned. 

The Scottish Government set out its ambitious Net Zero 2045 targets in its 2019 Climate Change Bill, stating a need for rapid transformation across all sectors of the economy to make it happen. 

However, the results of a first five yearly review into Scotland’s progress, conducted earlier this month by the UK Government’s Climate Change Committee, found the nation is already behind on progress towards its 2030 interim targets. 

Leading industry figures have praised the Sustainable Energy Futures MBA at the University of Strathclyde Business School, which launched this year to tackle the energy industry’s desperate need for new skills, more informed leadership, greater funding, and fundamental industrial and consumer behavioural change. 

Ryan Thomson, a partner at London-based business and IT consultancy Baringa, which specialises in the Energy, Utilities and Financial Services sectors, believes injecting more skills and expertise into the top of the sector is vital if Scotland’s energy transition targets have any chance of being met. 

Thomson, a University of Strathclyde graduate who has spent almost 20 years working with major companies in the energy sector, said: “We need tens if not hundreds of thousands of people to work in the energy sector to make the energy transition happen – all of whom will require expert leadership. 

“There’s a skills gap at every level, but particularly around understanding the commercial fundamentals of what the energy transition means at the top of organisations. 

“Energy hasn’t necessarily been high on a lot of executives’ agendas until very recently. Now we’re in an energy crisis and suddenly everyone wants to talk to an energy expert.

“The scale of energy transition means there’s a need for more leaders at a senior level who understand both the commercial and financial side of the industry – where the money comes from – and how to link it to the realities of energy transition. 

“Every leader across almost every industry is going to be asked about energy and sustainability goals, energy security, and energy transition etc. Senior leaders have to up-skill themselves and organisations need to attract and nurture people with these attributes.” 

Gavin Baillie, an energy policy expert who has spent more than 15 years working in the energy sector, believes the key to energy transition lies outside the energy industry in leaders that have driven systemic behavioural change in other sectors.

He said: “There are other heavily regulated sectors, such as banking, where skills and experience would transfer easily. However, we need to think more radically, to look at industries that are brilliant at driving change, that have not just transformed behaviour, but redefined what normal is – think Amazon to shopping or Netflix to the way we watch movies and TV.

“That’s what we need in the energy industry. Leaders who are able to connect all parts of what is an incredibly complex sector – from technology, to policy, to delivery, to skills, to customers – and sell the story to consumers, businesses, and entire industries.”

The concerns shared by Thomson and Baillie on the skills, funding, and scale of change affecting required are echoed by Professor Iain Black, Professor of Sustainable Consumption and course lead for the University of Strathclyde Sustainable Futures MBA.

He said: “There is a significant skills gap across the economy when it comes to the realities of achieving net zero. One of the reasons the Scottish Government is going to struggle to hit its target is that we just don’t have enough people working in the energy industry with the skills. 

“I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the need for thinking that questions the very fundamentals of our economy, what that economy is there for, and what it’s there to deliver if we are to solve the climate and related sustainability crises. This is an exciting and pressing challenge for governments, business and third sector organisations that asks them to understand the world in a completely different way.

“This MBA is there to fill a desperate need for leaders who are not simply looking to improve or change things within their organisations by 5% or 10% but to who can change the existing thinking in ways that leads to new business models and delivery of value. 

“We’re looking to get people to think deep into the broadest level of the challenges we face which then allow them to develop strategies and policies that will drive real change.” 

The next intake of the University of Strathclyde Business School Sustainable Energy Futures MBA launches in January 2023 and is sponsored by some of the biggest firms in energy including Ovo energy, Baringa, ESB, SMS and Gentrack. It’s expected organisations across the UK will enrol more than 25 leaders of the future looking to advance their knowledge from across the energy industry and other sectors in the first cohort.

The course – described as an MBA+ due to its tailored focus on energy – has been designed by industry experts to give candidates deep expertise and understanding of the burgeoning energy sector applicable at a time when the skills have never been more important.  

Professor David Hillier, Associate Principal and Executive Dean at the University of Strathclyde Business School, says the best way to nurture the executive leadership talent required is to put the best brains into an environment where they can find solutions.

He said: “The Sustainable Energy Futures MBA creates the perfect environment for tackling the biggest issue facing the country and the planet. 

“It’s the right people, in the right environment, with the right energy. If you do that, and guide it, facilitate it and support it, then the unexpected, new, paradigmatic thinking that will change systems will emerge from it. It’s the kind of environment where the big questions will be asked, and the big answers given.

“The energy sector has never been more attractive and exciting to work in, and this course will provide some of the UK’s most talented executives with the tools they need to lead the wholesale change needed in the years to come.”

For more information on the Sustainable Energy Futures MBA at the University of Strathclyde Business School, visit the website.

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