Almost three-quarters (71%) of UK schoolchildren think the country’s top jobs are in the scientific sector, yet many do not believe the same about the energy, utilities and built environment industries.
This was the somewhat worrying finding in our recent energy, utilities and built industries skills survey.
As many working in these sectors near retirement there’s a risk they’ll take their skills and knowledge with them, leaving a shrunken talent pool behind.
We cannot escape the facts: there simply aren’t enough young people entering the energy, utilities and built environment industries today. Something needs to be done, and soon.
But why is this happening, and what exactly could be done to appeal to the next generation and start closing the ever-growing skills gap?
Lack of education
Could the problem stem from a lack of education? Our survey found students are generally given very little information on careers in the energy, utilities and built environment industries.
Yet almost half of students said they are given guidance on becoming a teacher, doctor or nurse.
Clearly people doing their GCSEs or A-levels are not being encouraged into these sectors as much as other ones.
But it isn’t only schools at fault. How often do you see one of the big nationals in these industries putting out adverts that say: ‘Look at the technology our employees get to use every day’? Focussing on the problems they get to solve – stuff that would be actually be exciting to a young person thinking about what to do next.
Firms in these industries need to do whatever they can to engage with schools early on and start getting these kinds of messages across: showing young people they could be doing things like helping solve the renewable energy problem or tackling climate change. Demonstrating the kind of modern workplace technology they could be using in the process.
The gender divide
Another risk is the significant gender gap between young people and their views of the energy, utilities and built environment sectors.
Only 14% of girls surveyed were aware of job opportunities in these industries vs. almost a quarter (23%) of boys.
Just 15% of girls think these industries are creative while 25% of boys do, and only 16% of girls feel they can relate to these industries vs. 23% of boys who see them as exciting.
This is concerning in terms of diversity, but the maths alone is cause for alarm. Women make up roughly 50% of the population, and if a whole generation of them feels alienated from these industries it doesn’t bode well for the skills gap in future.
But why is this happening? It’s difficult to say, but perhaps as a society we do tend to push both girls and boys down a particular route from a young age.
It’s time to do away with tired old clichés like the bloke in utilities or construction going around with a hammer and spanner and a hi-vis vest.
Perhaps if we instead start marketing the highly technical skills those girls could be applying every day, the communication skills they’d have to apply and the modern connected workplace they could be part of, they might pay more attention.
Solving the problem
Closing this skills gap could be as simple (or not so simple) as doing a much better job of marketing the benefits of working in the and built environment industries to the right people at the right time.
Take the fact that almost 9 in 10 students would be attracted to a job in an industry if they knew it had state-of-the-art technology. That’s actually an uplifting stat, because these industries have exactly that.
Many energy, utilities and built environment firms already have connected workplaces, joined together through digital tools that allow for better collaboration and productivity.
If those employers worked harder to promote this they could attract new talent to help them better meet evolving customer demands. And the time to do it is during that critical time when young people thinking about what career they want.
As for how to go about doing that, our research found that the best way to a young person’s heart as an employer is through their social circles.
Almost four-fifths (78%) of students are more likely to go into a career that someone in their ‘social bubble’ is in, yet 62% don’t know a single person who works in the energy, utilities or built environment sectors.
It’s therefore critical for these companies to become part of young people’s conversation around jobs, whether that’s through social media or advertising or simply getting out there more and speaking to the younger generation.
But really this is everyone’s responsibility. I talk to people in the nuclear industry and they tell me there’s only a handful of people left in the UK who know how to build a nuclear power station. When we lose these capabilities we diminish our global marketability as a country.
With the right technology, however, we can help pass that crucial knowledge from the older generation to the new people entering the field, whether it’s through collaborative platforms or enabling those nearing retirement to work remotely and still keep a foot (and mind) in the door.
In principle the challenges are simple: what skills are we short of? How do we get the next generation excited about joining these industries to fill those gaps? How do we retain the capabilities we’ve already got?
But I don’t think enough of the right people are trying to answer those questions, or even asking them in the first place.
And if we don’t start answering them soon we risk doing irreparable damage to industries that employ tens of thousands of people.
Check our infographic for more insight on creating a connected workplace in the energy, utilities and built environment industries.
Graeme has a first degree in Computing Science and a Masters in Business Administration. He has successfully used his experience and knowledge of both business and technology to deliver IT enabled change for many organisations. Outside of work, Graeme has completed a project to build his own house and plays regularly in a band.