- A new skills roadmap shows that education for traditional energy jobs is adequate, but there are gaps in training for the future energy sector.
- Traditional energy education is lacking in providing specialist skills in renewables and clean energy alternatives.
- There will be a need for legal and financial skills as well as social scientists, engineers, and environmental and climate scientists.
- For climate change news and analysis, go to News24 Climate Future.
Future energy jobs will require skills in legal, finance, science and technology, entrepreneurship, engineering and social science, to name a few, according to a new report.
The South African Energy Skills Roadmap 2023, published this week, is the collaborative work of the South African National Energy Association (Sanea) and Wits University. The project was proposed by the South African BRICS Business Council, with the aim that the roadmap would support the country's broader plans for a just energy transition. It was funded by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).
The roadmap identifies skills gaps for the energy sector of the future. It also unpacks recommendations to ensure the right skills are in place to aid South Africa's energy transition.
"With the shift away from fossil fuels towards more renewable and clean energy, the initial demand for design, construction and installation-related jobs will be high," the report read.
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Following the construction of renewable energy plants, skills will also be needed for their continued operations and maintenance. "Installation, repair and maintenance is an important emerging area that has significant implications for local enterprise development and community skills development," the report read.
Workers will require specialised skills for these clean energy technologies (such as green hydrogen and even energy storage solutions). Apart from technical specialists that can work with solar PV and wind technologies, others, such as electrical engineering and non-electrical technical skills like boilermakers, welders and mechanical skills, will be needed.
Beyond technical capabilities, skills are also required in supportive roles for the just energy transition, which takes into account socioeconomic factors.
These include policy development and research, legal skills, forecasting and modelling as well as mathematics and statistics for energy planning, and development practitioners that can work with communities affected by the transition to renewables. Given the social impacts of the transition, there will also be opportunities for social workers, gender specialists, environmental education and inclusivity specialists and trade union officials.
South Africa is relying a lot on climate finance to fund its transition, and the roadmap highlights the need for relevant courses to upskill finance professionals with an understanding of sustainability and the business case of a just transition.
The roadmap identifies several trends influencing South Africa's energy system and related jobs. Among these trends is climate change, which would warrant skills in urban and rural planning, environmental and climate science, and finance and investment as climate finance comes to the fore.
The transition would also present opportunities for enterprise development and skills in entrepreneurship, sales and marketing and business administration will be valuable.
As automation and digitisation become more prevalent in the sector, there will be a need for skills in ICT operations and management, software and application development, data management and analysis, automation and robotics – related to the electrical and automated installation of equipment - and data and network security.
The roadmap shows an adequate supply of "traditional" energy courses or qualifications for existing jobs – with over 1 000 courses offered across universities, colleges and private training providers in the engineering and science fields. But it noted a lack of specialised training by the community and Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges for areas like renewables and clean energy. The roadmap raises concerns about whether there is adequate training for skills that will be demanded in future.
"It is unclear if post-school curricula and education quality are responding adequately or appropriately to future demand," the report read. "Community and TVET colleges are not responding to nor providing appropriate training for current and future local demand …" it added.
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Although there are gaps, there is still some progress being made. Universities are introducing short specialist courses on renewable energy technologies such as wind and storage energy systems. The roadmap also noted that the Durban University of Technology and the South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre (SARETEC) at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology offer technical courses for the installation of wind, solar and grid connections.
SARETEC is also involved in a just energy transition initiative with Eskom in reskilling and upskilling workers at its coal-fired power stations that are being decommissioned. The aim is to ensure that workers and communities dependent on the coal value chain are not disadvantaged by the transition. SARETEC offers accredited courses and qualifications in the renewable energy field. It is also working with other TVETs across the country to train solar PV technicians.
The roadmap was also critical of the public sector focusing on capacitating traditional energy jobs, while the private sector has been better at responding to the needs of the future, such as renewables and alternative technologies and energy sources like green hydrogen.
"The private sector is employing specialists in future areas such as green hydrogen to inform policy and clients that will shape the trajectory. The public sector tends to be more focused on current jobs and issues," the report read.
Among the recommendations of the roadmap is that training institutions offer specialist degrees - both undergraduate and postgraduate - for renewable energy (such as solar, wind, biomass), and clean energy such as green hydrogen, automation and robotics.
Existing courses in law, business science and administration and public sector management should also be adjusted to take into account renewables, clean energy, energy efficiency and climate change. It also recommends that TVETs and community colleges bush up their offerings on maintenance and repair of renewable energy technologies.
Importantly the educators at these learning institutions will also have to be upskilled to teach new courses.