Training towards a greener tomorrow

Training towards a greener tomorrow

While the renewable energy sector already provides thousands of jobs across South Africa, many more positions are available. However, the skills and qualifications required for these jobs are either in short supply or, if they are available, the experience is lacking. On top of this, there is also a general shortage of skills in the country’s science, engineering, maths, and technology (STEM) fields.

The renewable energy industry needs electrical engineers, operations and maintenance managers, and mechanical technicians, as well as skills in manufacturing, assembly, and installation. Since renewable energy plants are obviously businesses, they also require skills in sales, marketing, finance, and general business operations.

With this in mind, how should we be educating young people about the opportunities available and the qualifications required? According to Asante Phiri, Enel Green Power South Africa (EGP RSA) head of operations and maintenance: Southern Africa, we need to encourage the youth to take up careers in STEM-related fields.

Phiri believes students are still shying away from these subjects due to a perception that they are difficult. He suggests school outreach programmes to help the youth understand that, although degrees in these fields may be challenging, they can be achieved, and are necessary to follow careers in renewable energy and to take advantage of the many employment opportunities available.

Helping the youth become employable

Lizeka Dlepu, head of sustainability: Southern Africa at EGP RSA, explains that the company is committed to encouraging young people to enter the renewable energy industry. In the communities where it operates, EGP exposes learners to operations at its plants, enabling them to see for themselves how the sites operate and how energy is produced.

The company has also discovered that some schools in its host communities do not even offer maths or science as subjects. Learners can take maths literacy, but this does not equip them to enter tertiary institutions to study engineering-related subjects. In answer to this problem, EGP RSA provides maths and science teachers to these schools, so that learners will be able to study for STEM careers at a tertiary level.

EGP also offers bursaries to university students, as well as providing financial support to young learners from further education and training colleges who are studying mechanical or electrical engineering at N3, N4, and N5 levels. This support equips students to pursue careers in these fields, enabling them to apply for work opportunities at EGP RSA renewable energy plants.

Students who have studied to become artisans such as technicians, electricians, or mechanical fitters, as well as those who have studied engineering as a science, are also eligible to work at renewable energy plants. The business-related skills required in the sector, meanwhile, open the door for students with qualifications in sales and marketing, finance, and legal services to apply for work opportunities in renewable energy.

To help mitigate the high unemployment rate, EGP RSA’s bursaries have funded over 40 students across the country, with others already having graduated and over 30 more in the pipeline. On the technical side, the company has trained local youths as wind turbine technicians and in basic rigging, increasing the pool of young people able to enter the workforce within its host communities.

EGP RSA has begun to fund entry-level learners who don’t have a matric but are interested in engineering. These individuals can apply to EGP’s community development programme, which may be able to fund them at N3 level.

Facilitating skills development

On the skills development side, EGP RSA has also started a driving school programme in the hope that, once trained, the drivers can gain employment either on the company’s sites or elsewhere in the country.

As part of the company’s commitment to the circular economy, it is funding locals to study at furniture-making and carpentry institutions, where they learn to make furniture from wooden pallets and other waste and recyclable materials. This will open up various employment and self-employment opportunities.

The Renewable Energy Solutions for Africa (RES4Africa) Foundation has instituted a programme called the Reskilling Lab, in which EGP RSA is participating together with other companies. The aim of the programme is to address one of the big challenges faced by the energy sector. South Africa’s numerous coal-fired power stations are significant contributors to employment within the mining industry; if the country changes its energy mix by incorporating a larger percentage of renewable energy, what happens to the employees working within the coal sector and the coal power plant value chain?

The Reskilling Lab aims to address this problem by reskilling employees from the coal-based power plant value chain, enabling them to take up jobs within the renewable energy sector and the new value chain for the renewable energy industry. One of the Lab’s objectives is to build training platforms addressing the current skills gap between existing skills and those needed in the renewable energy industry.

The Reskilling Lab also looks at creating bases to make reskilling an asset for local communities, not only ensuring that they are financially sustainable, but also potentially scalable. EGP RSA is passionate about this and believes that the Reskilling Lab is vital to facilitate a fair energy transition.

While a skills gap does exist in the country in general and in the renewable energy sector in particular, much is being done to address this issue. With financial aid, educational support, and skills development programmes constantly being instituted, it is hoped that the skills gap will continue to shrink, and that new job opportunities will become available to the many unemployed in the country.

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