An urgent appeal from the electricity and energy sector: Secure the energy transition with the right skills supply now

Debate article, skills supply / 4 May 2023

Sweden is undergoing an energy transition as transformative as when the car replaced the horse and carriage. Efforts are being made to create the world’s first fossil-free society, without losing our leading position as an industrial and exporting nation. The technical conditions are in place. Now we need to make substantial investments to further train those already working in the sector and to secure the long-term future skills supply in the industry, which is needed to realise the urgent energy transition.

An obvious accelerator of the transition is electrification. It not only enables the shift from fossil fuels, but also offers health and social benefits, as well as economic opportunities for Swedish companies.

Around Sweden, initiatives are under way to build battery factories, produce fossil-free steel and expand our wind power production. Closer to home, solar cells are being installed, charging stations for electric cars are being built, and energy efficiency is being improved.

The positive economic effects of the green transition are multi-layered. These include new revenue streams and more jobs around the country; but a successful transition also has the potential to make Sweden a model country once again, which would attract further international investment and create new Swedish export successes.

For this to happen, however, a major effort is needed to future-proof the energy transition in practice.

For several years, leading players in the energy sector and beyond have been sounding the alarm about the shortage of engineers, electricians and technicians. Members of Swedenergy say they need to recruit around 8,000 technicians and engineers over the next three years. Even vocational training programmes are not meeting this demand. According to the estimate in the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise’s report, “Vocational training for the future”, there will be a shortage of more than 14,000 professionals trained in electricity by 2035.

In other words, there is an extensive skills shortage throughout the industry, from electricians and electrical installers to operating technicians and engineers with various specialisations. Too few people are applying for the industry’s training programmes, especially given the high demand for energy sector services and upcoming retirements. The situation is acute.

Decision-makers at national, regional and local level in politics and industry, together with authorities and associations must all help to alleviate the situation. We see a number of areas with a particularly strong impact on skills supply:

More people need to apply for the sector’s training courses: this requires efforts to attract students to the courses on offer – a responsibility that can be assumed by the sector’s companies, educational institutions and professional organisations.

It needs to be easier to retrain or upskill in mid-life: with rapid technological development and changing needs, both upskilling and reskilling need to be made sufficiently attractive even for those already working. The new transitional study grant is a welcome initiative for those already working to further their education. The problem is that there is insufficient funding for universities and colleges to develop courses to the extent required. Another important element is making training possible for newly arrived foreign-born people by means of professionally adapted language support, and validation of competences.

The number of places and locations need to be increased: when it comes to vocational education and training, both the number of places and the number of choices available need to be increased. One solution to enable more people to study the Electricity and Energy Programme with a focus on electrical power has been subsidies to “industry schools” that have accepted pupils who study the programme but cannot receive practical training at home. The grant has funded travel and accommodation for the students.

Unfortunately, the grant was removed from the government’s budget because different industries have had varying degrees of success in recruiting students in this way. The government should immediately seek a solution so that the initiatives that have been successful, for example the electricity and energy programme at the Åsbro trade school, can continue to receive students from all over the country.

Increase the number of engineers who pass their exams: this requires, among other things, efforts to increase maths skills in schools to reduce the proportion of entrants who do not complete their exams.

As an industry, we are committed to welcoming students who choose energy programmes, for internships and summer jobs, or offering them their first job upon graduation. We are also investing in greater diversity and inclusion to attract new groups to our industry.

There is an urgent need to ensure the availability of qualified staff who can put the energy transition into practice. Electrification is a prerequisite for our prosperity and a key to moving towards a more sustainable society. We are pushing for it from our side – together and across sectors – but more and better collaboration is needed between society’s stakeholders, the business community and politicians to facilitate and create the right conditions for the solid investments required. We need to secure the skills of the industry that is at the centre of society’s climate transition, and which enables the transition of other industries. If we take advantage of the opportunities, we can look forward to a bright future.

Signed by:

Pontus Boström, 2nd Vice President, Swedish Electricians’ Association.

Andreas Åström, Head of Industrial Policy, Swedish Installers’ Association.

Anna Jarnö, business manager for ELFACK, Northern Europe’s largest trade fair for the electricity and energy industry and the strategy conference Power Electrification Summit.

Åsa Gabrielsson, Operations Manager, Central Professional Board of the Electricity Industry.

Åsa Pettersson, CEO, Swedenergy.