From education to employment

Can we Bridge the Hydrogen Skills Gap?

With a career spanning more than 22 years in renewables, Amer Gaffer is well-versed in the opportunities that hydrogen can bring to UK businesses as we transition to more sustainable ways of working.

The challenge, he says, is in encouraging industry to champion change and to put the infrastructure in place that will train enough people to work confidently and safely with the gas to make it a viable alternative.

As Director of Manchester Fuel Cell Innovation Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University and Specialist Advisor to Hydrogen Safe, the hydrogen safety training specialist that acts as a conduit between industry and education, Amer has seen how the skills gap is impacting on the speed in which the UK can adopt hydrogen.

He comments:

“In reality, the progress we are seeing is as a direct result of a global move towards achieving net zero. There are 53 countries around the world that now have hydrogen strategies, with the UK launching its approach in 2021.

“The biggest challenge we have is that the ambition is there, but without the skills required, we cannot push forward at any pace. Instead, we are standing still and watching from the sidelines as other countries take the charge.

“Industry has to be the primary driver of this. We need people that can innovate, develop and also service this industry if we are to access the many benefits that it will deliver. While we recognise the significance of the hydrogen opportunity, there aren’t enough businesses that are taking responsibility and investing in a way that will become meaningful.”

Developing a skills matrix

With huge potential, Amer explains that we need a better understanding of the roles that we need to create and what has to be done to implement this at scale. Ultimately, industry and education needs to get together to develop a skills matrix.  

Amer comments:

“If we don’t take a lead when it comes to hydrogen, we will be exactly where we have been for years, as the deployer rather than the developer. In truth, we could have done this 50 years ago, the technology isn’t new, but the oil and gas economy was too strong.

“The difference now is that climate change is a very real threat and there is evidence that something has to change if we are to reverse the damage caused. Hydrogen has an important and proven role to play in the journey to achieving net zero.

“If we are to do this, we must make upskilling and reskilling a priority. There are companies that are delivering the training required. Take Hydrogen Safe as just one example. It offers a Level one, two and three course in hydrogen safety, which can be delivered as a standalone programme across four days or incorporated into apprenticeships and the syllabus that is already in place.

“We need education industry, government and trade bodies to work together to meet with the needs of a sector that is progressing well ahead of the infrastructure to effectively manage it.”

Taking responsibility for change

According to Amer, it is everyone’s responsibility to move things forward. While the process is not simple, with the right wrap around, which takes into consideration the support services and health and safety standards that need to be developed, hydrogen will become an obvious choice.

Amer comments:

“There is no one technology that will get us to where we need to be. We must consider what works best and in which scenarios. For example, when we look at heavy industry, it is clear to see that there is a role for hydrogen.

“If we can make hydrogen clean and more commercially viable, it is the solution that we have been looking for. The construction sector is an obvious benefactor from hydrogen fuel cells, as is freight. There are scenarios whereby it would make complete sense.  

“What’s more, many of the skills in these sectors are transferrable, meaning that people simply need to top-up as opposed to starting from scratch. This is where organisations like Hydrogen Safe can make a real difference.

“In addition to working with colleges and universities that are educating students, businesses can also up-skill or re-skill through continuing professional development (CPD) training. This then futureproofs the careers of those already working in sectors such as construction and manufacturing.

“The trick is to make sure that the benefits are evident and that those taking part in the courses can see how it will impact positively on their career opportunities in the future. It is all about education and ensuring that businesses recognise the need to equip their teams with the training they will require to work confidently with hydrogen.”

Encouraging change

While it may seem that the UK is dragging its feet when it comes to adopting hydrogen, Amer explains that it is no different to wind or solar.

He comments:

“While wind and solar energy are now largely adopted throughout the UK, this wasn’t always the case. Like anything, it takes time to encourage people to see the real value in change. More often than not, these interventions are only implemented at scale once incentives are offered.

“We need to start putting things in the ground so that industry can benefit from the use of this technology. The infrastructure that we have at present isn’t fit for purpose. It isn’t a case of switching from one gas to another, it is far more complicated than that.

“The truth of the matter is that we can’t continue to wait. Not least, no one seems to know what we are waiting for! We need to embrace change and encourage others to do the same. That’s when we will see the real value and opportunity that hydrogen can bring to us all.”

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