In this episode, host Mathias Steck, Service Area Manager for Renewables Northern Europe at DNV, is joined by Lorna Bennet, Project Engineer at Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, to discuss the need to mobilize existing skilled workers in support of clean energy production and how companies are starting to begin this transfer themselves and the huge growth potential this will unlock.
Lorna gives us her insights into the drivers behind the skills transfer, such as individual mind shifts and adapting new roles with opportunity for job growth, and how we can encourage the younger generation to adopt the skills needed to drive the clean energy transition forward.
MATHIAS STECK Hello and welcome to the 12th series of the DNV Talks Energy podcast. I'm your host, Mathias Steck. In the previous episode, we explored what the energy transition means for jobs and skills with a particular focus on job retention in carbon intensive industries. In this episode will build on last week's discussion and examine what new skills will be needed in the race to secure a clean energy future.
I'm delighted to be joined this week by Lorna Bennett, Project Engineer at the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, Lorna works on a wide variety of exciting projects in wind and tidal power, with a part of her role focusing on STEM engagement. Together, we'll explore how existing highly specialized competencies can be translated to address the huge decarbonization skills gap, and how we can collectively encourage the younger generation to adopt the skills needed to drive the industry forward.
We hope you enjoy the episode.
Welcome to the podcast, Lorna. It's great to have you with us today. For the benefit of our listeners and as a way of introduction could you tell us a bit more about yourself, about the organization you work for and your role within it?
LORNA BENNETT Hi, Mathias, thank you for having me. I work for the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult. Who are the UK's leading technology innovation and research centre for all areas of offshore renewable energy. We are working to deliver the UK's largest clean growth opportunity by accelerating and creating growth of UK companies in all areas of offshore renewables. We work through the whole supply chain, academia and research as well to help improve and develop offshore renewable energy. I myself am a project engineer. One of my key roles for the last five years has been helping develop, test, and demonstration and research opportunities our Levenmouth are leaving most demonstration offshore wind turbine inand Fife. But over the last 20 months, my focus has been on the energy transition and, in particular, circular economy for the wind sector.
MATHIAS STECK Thank you, Lorna. Let's start with the broad picture. What demand does the move towards decarbonization place on skills in the UK and globally?
LORNA BENNETT Decarbonization is a major challenge for every industry and every sector. Most companies now are developing a decarbonization or carbon reduction strategy, so there is an opportunity for continuous research, development and new technologies to help with carbon capture, carbon reduction and just general environmental improvements across all sectors all over the world.
MATHIAS STECK So while it is important that we protect existing jobs to reduce disruption and livelihoods during the energy transition, it's also crucial that existing skills are transferred in support of clean tech industries. Where do you see the biggest skills gap currently and what is being done to tackle it?
LORNA BENNETT Skills gap is a challenging question. It's one of these things you don't really know you have until you find it, but existing jobs are developing. So all of, for instance, the oil and gas industries, the one that people point the finger at most in terms of needing to decarbonize. But the oil and gas industry has been continually developing and finding improvements and technologies and operations to both yes increase their yields, but also to help decarbonize as well. And you see, there's major traditional oil and gas organizations are evolving into energy companies. They're adopting renewables, they themselves are transitioning internally and taking their staff with them. So skills are highly transferable. I myself have worked in four different sectors, including offshore renewables. I have several colleagues who have come from the aerospace sector or the oil and gas sector, even the telecommunications sector. So skills are highly transferable and it's developing the roles and identifying where these skills need to be applied to help with the decarbonization effort. That's important.
MATHIAS STECK So what would you say about the required mind shift change? I mean, people take jobs because they are convinced about something. So for example, people go into renewables because that they think that's a good industry, but the same way people went into oil and gas because they thought that is a good industry. Is it required to be successful with this skills changes to also change mindset?
LORNA BENNETT I think that's a valuable point to make, and we're seeing it, particularly with the younger generations. Obviously, we've seen the global Fridays for Future strikes were children walking out of schools to protest for governments and countries to do something about the climate crisis, which several of them have officially announced “we have a climate crisis and something needs to be done”. So there's a lot of empathy and a desire to make the change and do something that will have an impact and help the environment. Yes, I think that that is a big reason that some people are moving from other hard-to-abate sectors where maybe there's less being done, maybe with within specific companies. But you know, as I say, there are companies that are actually transitioning themselves and making the move and doing their best, you know, we could be cynical and say that it’s part of a PR drive, but they are doing it, so whether it's for cynical reasons or not. Change is happening.
MATHIAS STECK Yeah. So you mentioned PR drive, so seeing is believing, right? Do you have some examples from your own experience of where workers and hard-to-abate sectors, including oil and gas, have retrained or upskilled to work in clean technology industries?
LORNA BENNETT As I said, I have several colleagues that have come to work at Catapult from backgrounds and in either oil and gas or aerospace or construction, even in some instances. And they are, you know, feeling that they're making a difference. I was actually just talking to a colleague yesterday who was saying that in a previous role and realized that she doesn't have the passion for it ever as since she's joined ORE, you know, and she's, you know, feeling like there's a reason for getting up every day and you know, you're helping companies deliver these net zero carbon solutions. I know we supported the OMCE and in developing a new programme to help offer some guidance as to what the skills within the offshore wind sector we're looking for. And it was targeted more towards oil and gas employees that were looking at maybe retraining. There's lots of courses and things developing to help with that retraining. As I see, there's a lot of companies as well that are buying up maybe small renewable energy companies and absorbing them into their global consortium and, you know, making that transition internally as well. So progress is being made across the board.
MATHIAS STECK So what would you say? You mentioned people shifting from aerospace or gas to renewables. You yourself went for different sectors. But if it comes to real deep expertise, that takes some time right, how easy is it to transfer these skills and to really apply them to another area? Is it more simple in some cases than in others?
LORNA BENNETT I can't talk across all job roles. I myself have a background in mechanical design, which my course was designed to be highly transferable. It was non-specific to any particular industry. I've worked for a construction company when I was at university. I then worked for a company that designed systems predominantly for the oil and gas industry. I then worked for a wave power developer and then an aerospace consultancy and now working at Catapult, where I work across projects in both wind, wave and tidal and in all areas of the energy transition in terms of research for green hydrogen, CCUS, decarbonization maritime operations. We cover so many different things and your basic level of engineering skills are, you know, they're transferable to any sector. I got a job in aerospace while I was completing master's degree and in marine technologies because the principles for designing a ship's propeller system were basically the same as those for an airplane and tech fan just a thousand times heavier and slower. So, you know, the skills are transferable.
The communication is often key as well, you know, being able to explain and understand what you're being told. I've had colleagues who have come from, as I said, telecommunications backgrounds. Anyone with computer analytic skills will fit into any industry at the moment. That's beyond me that we have a data and digital team that do all that and I always refer to their expertise. Electrical engineering is, you know, it’s so similar across many industries. Skills are so transferable. And then even non-science and engineering skills. Your finance, your accountants, your procurements, your legal advice, you know, all of that is, you know, so transferable between sectors as well.
MATHIAS STECK So you mentioned CCUS, which is a technology we discussed in last week's episode, and indeed they will require a huge influx of new talent to support its growth. Would you know any areas where you think it's most important to transfer skills or where the biggest transfers are happening currently?
LORNA BENNETT Well, that's a very difficult question because as you see, there's there's so much going on, so CCUS - so carbon capture and storage - and we did a desk based study for the Crown Estate last year looking at the challenges and opportunities for co-location of carbon storage sites and depleted oil wells offshore and offshore wind farms. So, you know, those discussions have started as mostly seems to be logistical and bureaucratic. But you know, those discussions are ongoing about who's got responsibility for the seabed and things. And I think a lot of those skills for storing carbon will transfer directly from the experience of those extracting gas from the seabed in the first place. They're just doing it in reverse. The onshore logistics may be slightly more complicated. So there's and discussions around, you know, do we need new pipe networks for transporting carbon? But then also we've got the discussions we've had about green hydrogen and how can we utilize green hydrogen as a potential renewable source for whether that's transport is fuel or whether it's as a fuel for industry, you know, furnaces, heating, cooking, but it's again, it's a question of upgrading our infrastructure. Which, again, highly transferable from the existing construction industry, oil and gas industry, any of the infrastructure industries but where my passion lies as my current research and circular economy and how we can look at being more sustainable with the materials we're using. So we have offshore wind fleet in the UK currently of just over 11 gigawatts’ capacity. We have a target of having 40 gigawatts by 2030 and 75 gigawatts by 2050. So we're talking at nearly quadrupling the size of the sector in the next eight years. Where are we going to get all of those materials and resources from, if we don't start looking at what we currently see as a waste problem, as a resource stream to meet our future build out requirements? So you've got the double effect there of not having to rely on imports from around the world when there's potentially trade concerns with everything that's going on, but also significant reduction opportunities and carbon footprint, significant reduction and environmental impacts from recycling and reusing materials, and significant environmental reductions with concerns of land filling and waste generation from that. So my passion lies with the circular economy, and I've been having so many fantastic discussions over the last couple of months with companies that are setting up their new business models around refurbishing and reusing products, materials and the amazing impacts that's having and the amount of growth they've had over the last couple of years.
MATHIAS STECK What do you think will be the main drivers behind the skills transfer? We talked a little bit earlier about the potentially required mindset shift, but for example, would it be needed for workers to seek re-employment after certain industries become obsolete? Is that a driver, or you think there are signs of proactive movement into new roles that people see as a more attractive long term perspective?
LORNA BENNETT Obviously we always hope that nobody has to lose a job before they have to find a job. As I said we've had good indications from a lot of companies starting to make the transfer themselves, starting to adapt to the new environment they're operating in. So companies themselves are evolving into new, new rules and new positions. But there are so many opportunities for job growth, job creation. As I saidy, we're talking about that circular economy and you know, there's the potential for a whole new industry to form with the re-use and refurbishment of materials and that market instead of just sending things overseas so that it’s out of sight, out of mind, to be dealt with by somebody else. Actually utilizing those resources as the valuable materials and resources they are. But obviously, I say that the wind industry is going to quadruple in size within the UK alone in the next eight years.
Countries all around the world are setting targets for growth and offshore wind, onshore wind and hydrogen production. There are new job opportunities cropping up all the time all over the world. In the UK, the sector deal that was announced in 2019 said that we hope to have over 27,000 people directly employed by the offshore wind industry alone by 2030, and they expect that over 60,000 people will be employed within the direct supply chain related to the offshore wind industry. So, you know, it’s a huge growth potential across all areas of clean industries at the moment, and I think a lot of the oil and gas companies and, you know, the steel industries and cement, all these hard-to-abate sectors are starting to embrace the challenges and opportunities that these are presenting.
MATHIAS STECK So let's discuss the routes into the industry. And maybe let's start with you. You mentioned you worked in four different sectors. How did you become involved within the industry and what inspired you to learn the skills needed?
LORNA BENNETT It's a very good question and one that I try to answer quite a lot as a STEM ambassador, as honestly, as possible. So when I was at school, I have no recollection of ever have heard the word engineer or ever really having thought about renewable, and energy at all, to be honest. And I stumbled across and of course, I decided to do at University product design, engineering totally by accident at a university open day that I technically wasn't supposed to be at as it wasn't a final year student. But that enabled me to choose my final year subjects to do that course. So I did product design engineering. And both my parents worked in a hospital, so I wanted to help people, and I assumed that I would go into some kind of medical engineering, designing devices to help save lives or improve people's lives. I even applied for another course in prosthetics and orthotics, but it was the product design engineering course that got my attention because there was so much creativity. It totally combined my love of art and design and building things and making little widgets or devices to try, I don't even know to do for him to do what. And I also love maths and physics and chemistry as well.
So it was that combination of science and art that got me into engineering in the first place, and then it was during my final year of university, I joined the Engineers Without Borders society and started learning about sustainable engineering and that kind of helping get water and electricity and sanitation to remote communities all around the world. So not just as I thought at the time, you know and in Africa and India Indonesia and Japan, all of these places, but actually with remote communities within Scotland and Wales and Norway as well, you know, helping them get electricity and water when they're off grid because they're too far away from those connections. And it reminded me that when I was young at school, we used to have regular power cuts. Even though I lived in a small village in the central belt,. My parents’ house was over 200 years old, and every winter, if the storms go off strong enough, we'd be left with no electricity for, I think in one instance it was 12 days, and it was when we found out that it was just a wire that was getting shorted with the high winds, and it was as simple as flicking a breaker switch to turn the power back on, I started thinking, Why do we have to sit around for nearly two weeks waiting for somebody to come out and flick a switch to put our electricity back on? We're sitting here in three feet of snow, freezing. Luckily, we had a coal fire to stay warm, but it's like we're waiting because, you know, half the country had no electricity. We were a small village. It was only six houses that were affected. We had to wait for so long for somebody to come and flick a switch. And I started thinking, You know, I don't want to be in that situation where you're relying on somebody else coming to save you all the time. And I wanted to learn how to be self-sustainable myself and how to not wait for a technician to come out for two weeks to flick a switch to put your lights back on. And I thought learning how renewable energy is made is the best way to do that. If I can work out how to turbines are built and maintained, then I can have one in my garden and I'll never have to rely on somebody else to turn my electricity back on again.
MATHIAS STECK So sounds like in your case, life experience, school and university have done a great job to bring you into a clean tech industry. But looking from the other side, what do you think industry has to do to actually attract talent into clean tech industry?
LORNA BENNETT Yeah, it's a very good question. So as I said, I'm a STEM ambassador. I joined the STEM Ambassador Network in 2010 to help volunteer at the Glasgow Science Festival. And I love it. I never got to do anything like fun, like the projects I've worked on as a STEM ambassador, supporting schools when I was at school, so as it’s a great, great breakaway. But that's why I do that. I feel like if I hadn't gone to that university open day like I wasn't supposed to, I could have missed the opportunity to learn how amazing engineering is. So I take every opportunity I can get now to try and go out to schools and talk to children, teachers, parents, anyone who’ll listen to me about how wonderful engineering is and how engineering helps build, maintain and progress the whole world around us. Everything in your daily life has been engineered by somebody, and the importance of that and the importance of explaining what engineering is, early before everyone just assumes that it's the car mechanic that fixes your car when it breaks down, which was the stereotype that we're starting to break with a number of initiatives in terms of engaging with skills, with companies going out, whether that's having open days to allow schools to come in and see what actually happens in a workplace and find out what opportunities that there are in the world.+++++I learn of new jobs and new opportunities still every day, and I've been in the industry for 11 years. But, it's so important that we, you know, we talk about the incredible work that we do as engineers within the clean energy industries and children respond to that. Teachers’ respond to that's is that. Everybody wants to feel like they're making a positive difference in the world. And these clean tech industries are definitely a great way to do that.
MATHIAS STECK So that's an interesting point. Talking about these exciting and important things with kids can, of course, produce quite some interesting insights and different ways of looking at things. What Would you remember any of the most surprising or interesting questions you ever got from a kid about what you've taught them?
LORNA BENNETT Children are the best. They ask the most incredible questions, and I've, you know, I've spoken from primary ones who are kind of four or five year old right up to university graduates. The younger they are, the more the classroom becomes like a stream of consciousness. So if you say a word they recognize, they want to tell you that they've heard that word before and they know why. And then every other child in the room wants to tell you the same, and it's fantastic. I've gone to visit schools on days where I've been really frustrated and really harassed with a project or something that's been going on at work. And come out, you can't stop smiling at, you know, the engagement you get, the enthusiasm of children. I think one of the best questions I was asked by a pupil that really surprised even the teacher was when I was talking to them about when I worked with Pelamis wave power, with power on the wave energy machine, setting on the waves, generating electricity, and a small boy put his hand up and said, But how do you stop it floating away, which is a fantastic engineering question, that not even the teacher had considered that, you know, it would just stay where it is. And then that started the whole discussion about what happens if it did float away. You know, would it crash into something? How do you prevent that? And we ended up getting into a risk assessment with these eight year old children, as you know, a full engineering project and development there. It was absolutely fantastic.
MATHIAS STECK So actually, that's a great bridge answer to our last question. Some of these kids you're talking to, they may shape our future. So if we now just move forward 10 years or so, where do you hope the skilled space in low carbon industries is then globally?
LORNA BENNETT Oh my goodness, 10 years in the future, I think a lot of the first children I was speaking to will be joining the industry by that time. I feel old. And yes, so as I said, you know, the offshore wind industry is on an exponential growth globally. So we've had commitments for projects developing in the US, Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, all over the world. Even India are starting to look at offshore wind projects. So there's going to be massive global growth opportunities for both the installation and critically, the operations and maintenance of all of these wind assets.
On the other side of that, the supply chain O&M companies have been putting huge amounts of resources and time and research into how can we maintain these machines more efficiently and keep them running for longer. So I had a fantastic conversation just the other day about a company that they've dedicated all of their time to what they didn't realize at the time was the top tier of the circular economy model, which is life extension. So maintaining the operation of our existing assets for as long as possible to extract the highest value from all of the materials we currently have and use. And all of the wind farms that I've heard of so far, all of the companies I've spoken to that are operating them are saying they're all going through a life extension period at the moment of between five and 10 years expected. So from the initial life expectancy of 20 to 25 years, we're now looking at an average life of an early wind farms of 30 years. The new wind farms that are currently in development are going into production with the expectation that their minimum life expectancy will be 35 years, with an aim of having up to 50 or 75 years’ operation. So the operations and maintenance period of these wind farms will be significantly longer. Not to mention the sensors, the robotics and the remote monitoring systems that are being developed so that we don’t have to send people offshore as often as we have done to check, to maintain, to do those kind of inspections as often as we have done because we've gained the experience of 30 years of operation so far and we've developed new technology silos so as to monitor things from shore, from safety. And then obviously, as I said at the start, the whole data analysis side of things, which is way over my head trying to dig deeper into that AI, machine learning, blockchain. All these words I've heard, and please don't ask me to explain what they mean, to do more predictive maintenance rather than reactive maintenance, so that we can stop faults before they happen and as many cases as possible. Again, reduce downtime, reduce the amount of time people need to spend offshore, and then on from that, when it does come to decommissioning, as I say, my passions in not now circular economy, how do we reuse and maintain the value of the materials that have worked so hard for us already in their first life cycle and get them into a second life where they can continue to add even more value, reduce carbon and help protect the environment for even longer?
MATHIAS STECK Many thanks Lorna for sharing all this about the new generation to come and about all these interesting challenges and opportunities to tackle. It has been a real pleasure talking to you.
LORNA BENNETT Thank you, Mathias.. Thank you for having me.
MATHIAS STECK In this episode, we discussed how the skills gap is a challenge with the existing jobs in development. The good news is that, for many , their skills are highly transferable within the industry. We discussed the drivers behind the skills transfer, such as individual mind shifts, adapting new roles with opportunity for job growth, as well as engaging with the younger generation who want to make a positive difference and supporting their enthusiasm.
Join us next week as we focus on energy and remote communities and the role of renewable energy plays in supporting micro-generation.
To hear more podcasts in the series, please visit dnv.com/talksenergy.