Developing the skills for the fuels of tomorrow, today

Hydrogen is set to play a key role in decarbonising the global energy system and investment in the deployment of hydrogen production is accelerating, with national governments making increasingly ambitious commitments to the sector. As the world works to recover from the impact of coronavirus, the UK has a chance to build back better. We hear from Huw Bement, director of CompEx, the certification body that is already supporting the development of a competent workforce in a bid to make the UK a global leader in green technologies, to hear his thoughts on the challenge of developing tomorrow’s skills today.

During the Spring Budget 2021, Rishi Sunak announced that the government will provide £27m for the Aberdeen Energy Transition Zone, helping to support North East Scotland play a “leading role” in meeting the nation’s net-zero ambitions. In addition, the UK government said it would provide £4.8million of funding to support the development of a hydrogen hub in Holyhead, Wales, which will pilot the creation of hydrogen from renewable energy that will be used as a zero-emission fuel in HGVs.
A competent and skilled workforce is vital
With regard to the implications for future skill requirements Huw explains: “The characteristics of hydrogen are well understood and already covered within existing international standards in relation to explosive atmospheres. However, hydrogen does behave differently when compared to other conventional gas fuels
because of its molecular size and weight, which means that it is more prone to leakage and will rise and disperse quickly in open environments.
So, whilst existing knowledge and skills are directly applicable, it is still important to ensure that there is a flexible, multi-skilled and competent workforce ready to facilitate the transition to an increasingly decarbonised energy system.
“The UK has all of the ingredients to become a leading producer and exporter of
hydrogen,” Huw continues. “However, if we are to fulfil the ambitions set out in OGUK’s (the leading representative body for the UK offshore oil and gas industry) roadmap to 2035, then it is vital we have a competent and skilled workforce. Our relationship with industry is critical to ensure that we can continue to provide a certification scheme that reflects future occupational requirements. Changing
technology will shape the skills needed but also how we train and assess people.
“We’re already consulting with key stakeholders within industry as to what a
competent skilled workforce will look like for the future. Competency is more than knowing your subject, it’s about your ability to apply and synthesise it in different contexts. We are committed to help equip workers with the right skills and capabilities, as well as work closely with the UK government and the devolved
administrations to build a sustainable recovery and support a net-zero future.
“This isn’t about reinventing the wheel, either. Since its inception over 25 years ago, CompEx has evolved, and is ready to support the emerging hydrogen sector. We already provide competency validation across a range of sectors including food manufacturing, pharmaceutical and of course petrochemical. It is critical that we continue to update the scheme, for example we are developing a Maritime Fuels module in response to a major cruise line which is moving from heavy fuel
oil to liquid natural gas-powered vessels. By recognising the unique challenges that these different industrial applications require of competent individuals operating in a variety of hazardous areas, CompEx is well-placed to support on developing a competent workforce for a diverse range of sectors, including the transition to green energy.”

Huw Bement joined certification body, CompEx, as executive director in January 2021  and has already started looking at ways to guide the scheme through thenext phase of its journey. CompEx has an incredible legacy spanning nearly 30 years, so Huw is working to ensure that the needs of all its stakeholders are met for many more years to come. Huw aims to leverage CompEx’s technical expertise to increase the scheme’s reach and support improvements to standards and safety.