02nd Nov 2022

The great green transition

Isobel Nield

In April 2020 the price of US oil turned negative in the wake of the pandemic and has since never fully recovered as Governments start to take action finally waking up to the effects climate change has had on our economy. While this is a good thing for our planet, it has left many “dirty” industry workers in the lurch as their jobs become increasingly unstable and insecure. Many are now looking elsewhere for work and thinking deeply about their long-term careers, and whether their industry aligns with their personal values. Bringing forth the great green job transition. 

Join us for an in-depth discussion as to why oil and gas are losing some of their greatest employees to the renewable energy sector, and whether this is actually a sustainable shift.

The Big Renewable Shift

A recent joint survey undertaken by Earth Scotland, Greenpeace, and Platform showed that 81% of fossil fuel workers were open to leaving the industry, with 75% stating that they were willing to move directly to the renewable energy sector. But why after a century of “dirty” monopolisation by oil and gas, is there a sudden shift in employee outlook?

One of the main reasons for this transition is the current instability within the non-renewable sector. With the world continuing its journey to greener pastures and the UK Government upholding its commitment to Boris Johnson’s Ten Point Plan, large numbers of oil and gas workers are looking to move industries as their jobs become increasingly unstable. Many employees were furloughed during the pandemic and have never regained full-time employment, or are very aware that their industry (and therefore role) is on a ticking clock. Once our fossil fuels run out, or the industry becomes unprofitable, they will become redundant. Therefore many are looking to jump ship to renewables sooner rather than later.

In addition to this, as society has experienced numerous life-changing events in recent times, many oil and gas employees have begun to realise that their industry doesn’t align with their own personal beliefs. In a recent interview, the BBC spoke with Nader Beltaji who previously worked in the oil and gas industry in Denmark for 10 years but moved to renewable energy giant RWE in search of greater job satisfaction. He said “Oil and gas feels like quite a dying industry… Climate change is certainly very much in the news, and offshore wind is part of the UK’s big energy strategy, so it’s good to be part of that.”

But despite the apparent need to make the switch to renewable energy, why do the UK gas and oil sectors still employ 140,000 people as of 2021?

Barriers to Transition

Unfortunately, despite the evident industry shift to working in renewables, there are still many barriers before employees can make the shift. Namely, a lack of career opportunities and high upfront costs for courses are currently stopping many from making the switch to the clean industry. 

Under current industry standards, oil and gas employees looking to switch industries need to spend thousands of pounds to retake courses they have already completed in order to be cleared to work. For some specialist jobs, these courses can cost workers over £8,000 every two years. Pair this with a lower salary rate for “clean” industry jobs in comparison to “dirty” oil and gas industry roles, and it’s clear why many are hesitant to change. 
Regretable, despite recent attempts such as the Scottish Government’s “Just Transition” campaign, the energy sector is still dragging its feet when it comes to helping employees switch fields. Providing limited support and information to seemingly dissuade individuals from leaving roles, even if it’s to move to another contract within the same company.

Make the switch

But, all is not lost. Despite the current barriers facing those who are looking to shift to the clean side, there are still lots of options that don’t require costly qualifications. 

The Geothermal sector is pioneering this stage of the transition by embracing ex-coal workers as they implement solutions in abandoned coal mines. As these mines have been abandoned they fill up with water as the pumps designed to keep them dry are turned off, creating a ready-made geothermal energy source. However, the sector needs coal workers’ skills and knowledge to make this work and so many industry leaders have introduced a circular skills economy to make the transfer easier. 

To add to this, many experts have recommended wind renewables as an open industry that welcomes those with high skills and knowledge. It is advised that fossil fuel workers aim to gain as many widely applicable skills as possible in order to boost both progression and career flexibility. In the meantime, industry leaders should be looking to follow in the footsteps of the Geothermal sector and create a seamless experience for those looking to switch over to the future of energy production.

Next Steps Toward Renewables

In order to reach the Government’s green initiative goals and fully make the transfer to a totally renewable energy system, the UK must give more support to workers in non-renewable energy sectors in order for them to make the switch. A circular skills economy must be established in order to break down these barriers, by allowing a quicker transfer of skills through industry-wide qualifications. In turn, this will transfer much-needed specialist skills from oil and gas to green energy, bringing with it further innovation and progress. 
Here at Halston, we know about a lot of things, but we definitely know our sh*t about renewable energy. Don’t believe us? Read our new “Entering the Green Tech era” paper today.