Where are all the women in energy?
At the Energy Live 2012 conference last week, a whole section of the day was dedicated to women in energy. A quick glance around the auditorium would have told you why Energy Live News, the conference hosts, thought they were onto something – men significantly outnumbered women. And not just at this event, but at most of the energy-related events I attend.
Julia Davenport, CEO of Good Energy, is one of the few women in a senior role in the industry. She argues that more girls should be encouraged to study the STEM subjects – ie science, technology, engineering and maths – at school. A physics graduate herself, Julia estimates that only 15% of STEM graduates are women. So her belief is that if more women can be encouraged to equip themselves with the skills required by the energy industry, then more will be recruited in the first place.
Sharing the platform with Julia at the Energy Live conference was one of our own female STEM graduate employees, Edwina Vernon. Now a Performance Engineer for Offshore Wind at RWE npower renewables, Edwina visits schools to talk to teenagers and create enthusiasm for STEM-related careers, as part of npower’s Enthuse programme. In her previous role as Technical Support Engineer at Didcot Power Station, Edwina also worked closely with pupils at Didcot Girls School to raise awareness of energy efficiency, again offering a positive industry-related role model.
Of course, there are only so many Edwinas we can send out to promote the energy sector as a worthwhile place for women to be. Educators and those offering young people careers advice also have an important role to play in changing perceptions. And perhaps we as an industry can do more to showcase the many varied and interesting roles we can offer.
This is a particularly pertinent issue as the energy sector is already experiencing a skills shortage which is only set to grow. According to the Engineering Skills Balance Sheet 2009, a report which assesses the relevant skills in the labour force, demand for science, engineering and technology-related jobs will increase by 2.4-million by 2014. And the energy sector – where it’s estimated that £200 billion of investment is required over the next few years to upgrade our ageing infrastructure and equip us to deliver low-carbon energy for the future – will have a huge need for new talent with the right skills. For example, the renewable industry estimates the offshore wind industry alone will employ more than 30,000 people in the next ten years. So encouraging more women into energy isn’t just about redressing the balance, it’s also about plugging the skills gap.
And of course, we’re not just talking about technical specialists and engineers, but jobs in many other areas. The very nature of our energy industry is changing, and that means a stronger focus on excellent customer service, so we also need those skilled in product development, project and risk management, innovation and customer liaison.
Certainly, we need more women, and Energy Live hit upon an important gap with its conference topic. But I don’t believe there are any barriers preventing women from entering the energy sector per se – perhaps just a lack of awareness around the many opportunities our industry can provide. Our doors are open, so if you are reading this and are interested in finding out more about working for npower, do visit our dedicated jobs site.
Overall, we want to encourage more of everyone with a wide range of skills – women as well as men and those from different backgrounds, ethnicities and ages. This is key if we are to embrace real diversity and create a skilled and able workforce that better reflects our customer base. Because unlike many other industries, the energy sector truly serves all of society.
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