Skills Development

Cashing in on renewables

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Renewable energy technologies are a core player in substituting or complementing fossil based energytechnologies. Meanwhile, the deployment of renewable energy has gained significant momentum. This also applies for the job market; worldwide, renewable energy market penetration is responsible for creating more than 6.5 million jobs.

It is clear that renewable energy markets with all their benefits to energy access, assurance of a more sustainable energy supply, as well as increased generation capacities, will only develop, if the required skills and capacities exist. The availability of skilled labour will strongly support, if not drive, the implementation of renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa and will contribute further to local value addition in manufacturing, assembly, project design, operation and maintenance.

A lack of skills increases the risk of unemployment—even among people with similar levels of education.Changes in income distribution are increasingly determined by the distribution of education and skills in societies: countries with large proportions of low-skilled adults are also those with high levels of income inequality, as are countries where skills profiles are polarised. Similarly, countries with a higher degree of inclusiveness in their skills distribution do better in terms of economic output. Education and skills thus hold the key to future well-being and will be critical to restoring long-term growth, tackling unemployment, promoting competitiveness, and nurturing more inclusive and cohesive societies in developing countries.

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is being ascribed a central role in the implementation of sustainable development and green economy, as it helps people consider the environmental and sustainability aspects within their professional practice. Changes in the economy and the labour market, e.g. shift towards the service sector and more unstable employment conditions, the introduction of new technologies, demographic factors such as increasing youth populations and migration to urban areas are global trends that challenge TVET. As the workplace becomes more complex both in structure and in pace, training and education have to adapt accordingly; this applies especially to the fast-moving and quickly changing renewable energy sector.

In many African countries, TVET systems tend to be very complex, sometimes involving numerous ministries in addition to the respective ministry with the thematic responsibility. This makes it challenging to implement rapid changes required for the introduction of renewable energy in TVET curricula. Vocational skills and competences for renewable energy projects vary greatly across technologies, types of application (e.g. on- or off-grid), and stage of the value chain, resulting in different employment patterns. For most technologies, electricians or electrical installers update their existing skill sets to install solar PV, wind, hydropower or biomass for electricity generation. In addition, technology-specific mechanical engineering or civil engineering related-skills are required for the construction of hydro, wind or biomass projects.

In addition to TVET, higher education plays a key role in training the next generation of renewable energy professionals in sub-Saharan Africa. On a global level, participation in tertiary education is seeing enrolment rates of 60% and higher in industrialised countries. From 2000-2012, the number of foreign tertiary students enrolled worldwide more than doubled, with an average annual growth rate of almost 7%.

Most regions, also including Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, are seeing growing numbers of international students, reflecting the internationalisation of universities in an increasing number of countries. There is also an increasing share of female students globally. By 2012, more female than male students were enrolled across all disciplines, worldwide.

Compared to other regions of the world, the training of academically qualified personnel in sub-Saharan Africa still is deficient regarding several aspects: inter alia enrolment figures for the tertiary sector, scientific publications, number of patents, and gender parity. This also applies to the renewable energy sector. Interrelated with this is the still limited development of national and regional renewable energy markets and corresponding job market. Since the job markets for renewable energy in sub-Saharan Africa is yet limited, graduates have to be trained to be highly flexible and creative to support this market, for example as entrepreneurs or working to developing the necessary political framework.

It is challenging for education and training systems to adapt to the growing and changing demand for renewable energy experts. The design and implementation of courses and programmes are complex tasks and require careful consideration of local conditions to deliver the necessary skills and meet the market demand. Qualified academic and training staff as well as teaching experience and training materials are sometimes absent, and is especially the case in sub-Saharan Africa. Any intervention in the renewable energy training education sector has to be sensitive to, knowledgeable of, and effective in addressing the structural lack of resources as well as the requirements of an immature market.

The recent boom in renewable energy technologies has created a huge demand for skilled experts worldwide who have various backgrounds, and who receive technical and vocational training or post-graduate education and There is also a pressing need for trained professionals within: educational institutions to teach renewable energy courses; governments to design and implement effective and efficient policies; and financial institutions to accurately assess renewable energy project proposals.

Specific attention to renewable energy skills development is required so that a country can maximise benefits related to economic growth, job creation and social inclusion and ultimately meet international renewable energy targets. This applies especially to sub-Saharan Africa, where institutional set-up, financial and human resources for education and training are often limited, while the potential for renewable remains vast and largely untapped.

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