Skills needed for downstream supply stability now and future

Working with Cogent Skills, the UK strategic body for skills in the science industries, to assess current workforce recruitment and retention as well as consider the future needs of the transitioning sector, UKPIA has published a review of future skills needs as the downstream fuels sector looks towards net zero.

As we travel towards net zero, Liz Boardman talks with some of the industry’s main players about the changing skills requirement of the fuels industry and what will support future skilling.

Elizabeth de Jong, chief executive of UKPIA explains the importance of the review: “The unfolding crisis in Ukraine continues to cause disruption and uncertainty to energy markets around the world. The impact of which is already shaping the national conversation around energy supply, security, and dependency. Such events again highlight the continuing importance of hydrocarbons in our society and how crucial it is to maintain confidence and resilience in our prevailing energy systems as we move towards a greener future.”

Working for a secure present and a sustainable future

“The unwavering focus of employers remains on ensuring the UK’s extensive fuel supply network continues to operate while simultaneously building a stronger, more sustainable industry capable of delivering lasting growth and prosperity. This will only be possible if companies have access to the skills they need to deliver the transformative innovation required.

“This report makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the sector’s skills issues and provides a timely opportunity to drive change and improve the outlook of both the existing and future workforce.”

“It is clear that the downstream sector will be challenged in the coming years,” Elizabeth continues. “While the industry has proven its enduring ability to respond to transformative changes, the need to secure the long-term availability of suitably skilled people is clear. These skills must come from both within the industry, through upskilling and retraining opportunities, and from outside, by transferring skills, knowledge, and fresh ideas into the sector.”

The review identifies four themes the sector needs to embrace to attract and retain the skills it requires:

  • Develop and expand the role of apprentices including to upskill existing employees
  • Address the perceptions of the industry for example by clarifying its essential role in nation’s energy transition
  • Understand, anticipate and respond to the current and potential skills gaps
  • Promote the benefits of industrial clustering for skills development and attractive career pathways

Employees must be allowed to evolve

Elizabeth de Jong, chief executive of UKPIA said: “The focus of the sector remains ensuring that the UK’s fuel supply network continues to operate while we build a stronger, sustainable industry capable of building lasting growth and prosperity.

“This will only happen if employers have access to the skills they need as the sector evolves.

“This review provides a timely opportunity to drive change and improve the outlook of both the existing and future workforce and I look forward to working with government, Cogent and our members to deliver on the areas this report identifies are in need of action.”

Develop strategies or face skills shortages

The report provides the evidence that employers need to further develop their skills strategies. It focuses on skills that are essential to current and future industry roles.

The research shows that 62% of sector respondents predict it will become increasingly difficult to hire staff with the right skills, with just 15% of employees optimistic that finding the right staff will become easier in future.

In addition, just 8% of employers felt it would become ‘somewhat easy’ to retain staff in the future, with 54% thinking it will be ‘somewhat difficult’ and 8% ‘very difficult.’

Essential for stability of supply

Justine Fosh, CEO of Cogent Skills, said: “The ability of the downstream sector to attract, retain and develop the talent it needs is not only a fundamental requirement for the stable operation of the nation’s fuel supply network – it’s a prerequisite for delivering our net zero ambitions.

“This report highlights the need for collaborative skills action across the fuels sector, from expanding the use of apprenticeships at all levels to promoting the various attractive and rewarding career pathways available. I look forward to working with colleagues to develop the skills solutions that support continued industry investment and job growth.”

An opportunity to transform the sector

A net zero future represents significant change in the downstream sector and maintaining a secure fuel supply will be essential to deliver an orderly transition. The sector will need access to the skills required to minimise disruption as well as innovating to improve efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. This is also an opportunity to reposition the sector as forward-looking and to highlight how it is uniquely placed to deliver the nation’s clean energy transition.

In recognition that the sector will continue to play a pivotal part in the UK’s low-carbon energy future, companies must continue to be proactive in their approach and take a long-term view on skills. The report highlights the uncertainty around the future attractiveness of the sector in a world that is gradually shifting away from traditional energy sources which is already impacting on the immediate availability of skilled workers amidst intense competition from other sectors.

It is essential that the sector develops a comprehensive skills strategy to define and respond to key priorities.

The full report can be downloaded from