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Ensuring the right skills to navigate the energy transition

- Wits University

The South African National Energy Association (SANEA) will launch its South African Energy Skills Roadmap on 27 January 2023.

This report was done in partnership with Wits University’s Centre for Researching Education and Labour (REAL) and the Wits Business School’s African Energy Leadership Centre (AELC) and supported by the South African BRICS Business Council. It is intended to promote the just energy transition. 

Register here to attend the event online on Friday, 27 January 2023 at 09:00.

As the energy crisis deepens, key stakeholders across the broader energy sector have emerged with a plan to ensure the requisite human capacity exists to deliver the technical energy solutions now and as the just energy transition unfolds.

The project has been funded by Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), and is the result of extensive desktop research and consultation over the last year amongst the key stakeholders across the broader energy sector. This includes government, business, civil society, researchers, and labour.

SANEA Chair Kiren Maharaj points out that the context of this initiative proved even more challenging in view of the crisis in the South African electricity sector. This, coupled with the emerging global and domestic trends which are putting pressure on the sector to transform, such as the demands to move to a low-carbon economy.

“As a result, huge uncertainty exists and within that key stakeholders needed to develop a skills roadmap which is responsive and takes into account the changing terrain. This means that flexibility and contingencies need to be built into any skills roadmap as well as continual tracking of the environment as uncertainties unfold.”

REAL Director, Dr Presha Ramsarup explains that the process around the development of the roadmap marks a significant departure for the sector as a whole as it brought together all the players to jointly identify what skills are needed both now and, in the future, and in turn what educational responses are needed. She adds that:

"We are in this crisis and the focus up to now has been on the technical solutions with little attention given to the skills dimension and whether there is the capacity to deliver on these technical solutions. Skills is always tagged on at the end rather than coherently planned for as an integral part of industrial and technical planning.”

AELC Director, Professor Lwazi Ngubevana comments that “leadership development is a key element in the skills roadmap and this work illustrates the multifaceted nature of the skills required in future energy leaders.”

The Energy Skills Roadmap is located within key global and domestic energy sector trends. The key global trends identified included technology drivers such as renewable energy, hydrogen and other clean molecules, energy storage and SMART technologies.  Other developments such as ‘prosumerism’ and new business models, greening of systems, sector coupling, new value chains, the acceleration of technology and social change are also examined for their impact. 

Six key trends were identified as having the biggest impacts on the South African energy system.  These trends are:

  1. the widening energy cost gap
  2. deteriorating energy security
  3. climate change (mitigation and adaptation)
  4. shifting towards sector coupling
  5. evolving energy markets and
  6. automation and digitalisation.

These trends had to be factored into the analysis of both the supply and demand for skills across a time horizon.

The Energy Skills Roadmap does a deep dive into the specifics of the jobs and corresponding skills these changes will require. 

The Energy Skills Roadmap highlights that there appears to be an adequate supply of traditional energy courses but they largely lack a focus on areas of specialisation, for example, specialisations that deal with renewables and clean energy. This is in contrast to industry developments where the provision of electricity is largely biased towards renewables (focus on solar) but not so much on grid integration and energy efficiencies.

In terms of the general response of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges and universities, it was found to be fragmented rather than the coordinated response required to deal with the energy transition.

Another key issue to emerge from the Energy Skills Roadmap is that as the energy transition unfolds it is expected to be a decentralising process which will require more localised capability. In view of this, the role of community and TVET colleges in areas where renewable technology is emerging will become important in terms of provision, as in the case of the Northern Cape. It would appear that currently they are not being sufficiently responsive to such developments.

Skills that are currently required and which are expected to be required in the future, include fields such as technical competencies for maintenance (accredited electricians, diesel mechanics, welders, boilermakers) and electricity distribution skills such as grid maintenance skills. In addition, there is a whole area of skills required to deal with the enabling jobs and occupations, such as in the legal regulatory environment, pricing, finance etc.

The demand for future skills is expected to be shaped by climate change and de-carbonisation, thus concentrating skills demand in electrical maintenance, energy efficiency, energy planning, ongoing monitoring and solution-finding skills.

Other findings in the Energy Skills Roadmap are that the public service sector has largely been focusing on traditional energy jobs whilst the private sector is being more responsive to renewables and alternate technologies and is looking for specialists, for example, in green hydrogen and in other areas that will support their energy transitions.

Ultimately, what the Energy Skills Roadmap illustrates is that for the broader energy sector to cope with future uncertainty and rapid change, a multipronged approach will be required including ongoing engagement and more systematic skills anticipation processes that bring together key stakeholders (both demand and supply). Overall, ongoing engagement around skills and demand patterns in future (including latent demand) is critical.

Finally, this Energy Skills Roadmap will support the Energy and Water SETA as well as the Just Energy Transition Frameworks that are being developed by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, and the Presidential Climate Commission. 

The work will be shared through SANEA members, Wits University, as well as disseminated through the BRICS Business Council Networks to further grow and expand knowledge in this critical area.