Dialogue contributes to securing skills needed for a sustainable energy system
The energy sector is facing a skills shortage in several areas. The need to improve diversity and equality is especially pressing. In December, KTH Energy Platform held a networking meeting and discussions to help identify various solutions to these issues.
“The aim of the event was to continue to build dialogue to find solutions to today’s skills shortages,” said Lina Bertling Tjernberg, KTH Energy Platform Director.
Newly appointed KTH President, Anders Söderholm, opened the event, entitled “Future Skills for a Sustainable Energy System”. He emphasised the need for national and international collaboration, and highlighted the benefits of networking meetings to share lessons learned between academia, business and authorities.
“The Energy Platform is one of KTH’s six research platforms, and it focuses on an area of vital importance for the future of society and knowledge development. The challenges related to energy supply are monumental to say the least, and co-operation is the only way to solve them,” said Söderholm.
Improving gender equality
The day’s moderator, Malin Thorsén, welcomed participants to the first panel discussion session, entitled ‘Transformation of the Energy System – the need for all skills’. The panel included representatives from Kraftkvinnorna, or ‘Power Women’, an association and network formed in 2015 with the aim of improving the visibility and elevating talented women in the energy sector. Kraftkvinnorna President, Helena Olssén, and Head of Strategy for Mälarenergi Elnät, began with a look back at how the organisation was established.
“Now we no longer have any major conferences with exclusively male participation, which is a definite improvement from when we started. In addition, businesses are actively working on diversity, which is the most important thing,” said Olssén.
One of the organisation’s initiatives is the ‘Power Woman of the Year Award’, which seeks to broaden the recruitment base in the energy sector. ‘Power Woman of the Year 2020’ was Azra Sapcanin, who offered several pieces of concrete advice on how to increase the representation of women in the sector.
“Remove all the compulsory requirements from job announcements because these prevent women from applying for positions. Above all, we must all work on our own prejudices. Only when we see them, will we be able to create better workplaces,” said Sapcanin, Head of Asset and Distribution at E.ON.
A sentiment echoed by Power Woman of the Year 2022, Charlotte Bergqvist.
“Businesses need to get their own houses in order and ensure that there’s space for a broad range of skills. How people address each other is important and one way forward is to work with values in organisations,” said Bergqvist, Chief Development Officer at Cloudberry Clean Energy.
Bertling Tjernberg, Power Woman of the Year 2021, said that the award had given her a real lift in her own diversity work, which had resulted in increased participation and greater ability to exert influence in new settings.
“The award spurred me on to work more; for example, I participated on more platforms to encourage more people to get involved,” Bertling Tjernberg said.
Panellists stressed the importance of recruiting more people from different backgrounds and ages to change the energy sector.
“We also need to increase interaction between academia and industry, and make time to learn from each other. Particularly in academia, we’re trained to compete with each other, but we also have to find ways to learn together for the long haul,” she said.
Wanted: new skills
The next panel discussion was entitled ‘Transformation of the Energy System - what authorities need’, and included representatives from the Swedish Energy Agency, the Swedish Energy Markets Inspectorate, Svenska kraftnät, and the National Electrical Safety Board. All emphasised how the ongoing energy transition is driving the need for new and different skills.
“For example, we work on advanced development projects where we need more mathematicians and AI experts. In addition, we have an acute need for skills in IT security because we’re responsible for infrastructure that is critical to society,” said Lotta Medelius-Bredhe, Director-General Svenska kraftnät.
Robert Andrén, Director General of the Swedish Energy Agency, spoke about the increasing need for people with holistic approaches and systems competence, which are needed to succeed in moving entire value chains.
“We also need people who are good at working across silos, and this is where universities have a key role,” said Andrén.
He also stressed the need to look at how the energy sector is described: what signals each actor sends about the industry. Improving storytelling contributes to the goal of reaching more young people, he said.
Ulrika Hesslow, Director General of the Swedish Energy Markets Inspectorate, also spoke about the need for a change in communication about the energy sector.
“To increase the attractiveness [of the energy sector], we need to talk more about the exciting society-critical mission we have. We need to talk more about what we do in concrete terms where much of our work is interdisciplinary and international,” said Hesslow.
The sudden growth in the number of authorities has made it more difficult to find the right skills. Several participants argued that one way to address this could be to show how opportunities offered in the sector contribute to genuine societal benefit.
“The energy sector is ideal for anyone who wants to solve short- and long-term challenges relating to everything from climate challenges to Europe’s energy supply. “We need to reach more people with this message,” Medelius-Bredhe said.
Andrén closed the discussion with an appeal to stay alert to calls for more walls to be erected between countries, including in the energy sector, which is intrinsically international, pointing out that the skills shortage requires the exchange of labour increases in the future.
The closing panel discussion for the day was titled ‘Transformation of the Energy System – perspectives from the industry’. Karl Bergman, Vice President R&D Vattenfall, said that for every new billion kronor that is invested in the electrical grid, around another 300 employees are needed.
“In terms of skills, we see considerable potential in those who already work with us. But this requires skills development – in particular, we need to strengthen our capacity to change,” said Bergman.
He also said that businesses need to be better at understanding their customers to meet the future needs of society, as well as take advantage of opportunities offered by technology.
“We need to be better at understanding what the digitalisation and data revolutions mean for our sector. We still do a lot manually and need to be better at data management, for example,” Bergman said.
There are currently skills shortages in most areas, the panel said. Everything from electrical engineers, lawyers, economists, and project leaders to installers and technicians.
“Half of the skills shortage is in production and workshop staff, where we need to do more to attract candidates directly from college level, which we also plan on doing. Projects include the construction of a new college in Ludvika,” said Tobias Hansson, CEO Hitachi Energy Sweden.
Participants also spoke about the importance of widening their target group for recruitment, especially as a way to create a more equal energy sector. Several concrete initiatives were mentioned, such as the use of personal pronouns in recruitment ads and being present in more settings, especially schools.
Jenny Larsson, CEO Schneider Electric Sweden, called on people to use available tools to strengthen gender equality in companies
“We all need to be better at sharing knowledge about which methods and tools are available today, and at all levels – including the boardroom.”
Government mandates increase awareness
Andrén and Bertling Tjernberg wrapped up the day’s presentations with news of new initiatives to address the skills shortage.
The government recently tasked the Swedish Energy Agency to map the skills the energy sector needs, identify obstacles and challenges, and propose measures to address them.
“In addition, we must strengthen collaboration, between business and academia as well as the rest of civil society. We all need to demonstrate that we are building a smarter, cleaner, more equal and sustainable society. We need to get that message out to more young people than we do now,” said Andrén.
Bertling Tjernberg highlighted the government’s aim to increase lifelong learning, one shared by all Sweden’s higher education institutions.
“It’s so important for the development of society as a whole to continue training people who are already working. KTH’s goal is for lifelong learning to be around 20 per cent of our teaching. This will mean big changes, and work is already underway on how to move this forward,” she said.
The seminar ended with a networking session and an exhibition by researchers drawn from authorities and business.
Text: Magnus Trogen Pahlén