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Powering ambitions: building the net-zero energy workforce | The Great Grid Upgrade

Achieving net zero by 2050 is one of the great challenges of our time, but one that will bring many benefits. Not only will it bring cleaner, more affordable and more secure energy to homes and businesses across the country, but a low carbon future also presents huge economic prospects for the UK, as well as jobs for future generations.

Among those ready to take on the challenge is Jade Kimpton, 23, a substation apprentice for National Grid studying for a foundation degree in electrical power engineering.

“Many people from my generation have a keen interest in climate change and looking after our environment,” says Kimpton, who is from King’s Lynn, Norfolk. “I think my generation experiences more eco-anxiety than previous generations and this motivates a lot of young people to explore careers which can make a real difference.”

Key to making that difference is decarbonising the energy we use; moving away from fossil fuels and replacing them with renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. That means demand for skilled workers across the energy infrastructure, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and environmental conservation sectors is expected to soar.

The transition to green energy will lead to the creation of jobs in construction, engineering and operations. Photograph: sturti/Getty Images

Over the next 25 years the energy sector needs to recruit for hundreds of thousands of roles, in what is fast becoming the country’s net-zero energy workforce. From scientists and engineers to designers, ecologists and installers, there will be huge opportunities for the next generation of professionals.

In the renewables sector, that means the creation of jobs in construction, maintenance, and operations across solar, wind and tidal energy. In energy infrastructure, roles will range from designing and building the infrastructure – such as overhead lines, underground cables and substations – that carries electricity from where it’s generated to where it’s needed, to coding the systems that manage and maintain the electricity network. And then there are also job opportunities in the conservation and restoration of natural habitats and ecosystems, such as in biodiversity management.

At the frontline of this recruitment drive is National Grid, the company that builds and maintains the UK’s electricity grid infrastructure. National Grid has ambitious plans to transform our energy infrastructure and make it fit for a future powered by renewable energy. It has launched The Great Grid Upgrade, the largest overhaul of the UK’s electricity grid in generations, which will scale up the grid and make it fit for a clean energy future. These 17 major infrastructure projects will involve building new electricity infrastructure and updating old networks, with National Grid set to build five times more electricity transmission infrastructure over the next six years than it has constructed over the past three decades, reorienting the once coal- and gas-centric legacy system into a modern, renewables-oriented one.

Jenna Barnes, recruitment director at National Grid

The Great Grid Upgrade’s wide geographic scope means new jobs will be distributed across the country. “It’s going to take a huge number of people to deliver the infrastructure needed to hit net zero,” says National Grid’s recruitment director Jenna Barnes. “You might think an engineering specialism is all that’s required. But before we’ve even put a spade into the ground, we need to think about ways of designing and building the grid infrastructure. So, we’re looking for diverse and creative individuals to think about new ways of doing things in future.”

The nature and scale of these projects mean that the sector will require a range of new roles including people with the digital and data skills to maximise the reliability and accuracy of the UK’s energy system as well as scientists, engineers and designers to deliver new technologies such as effective carbon capture, hydrogen gas, and to enable growth in new energy networks. “We also need people with change management skills, plus project managers, contractors, and quantity surveyors to help deliver the strategic infrastructure being developed as part of The Great Grid Upgrade,” says Barnes.

To help create this net-zero energy workforce, National Grid supports a number of early-careers projects, including its community investment programme Grid for Good, apprenticeships, internships and graduate programmes. “We’re trying to make a better, cleaner, greener future, and that’s really important to a lot of people – especially younger generations,” says Barnes.

For Jade Kimpton, her apprenticeship has offered the chance to combine passion and purpose. “I think everyone agrees that we need to work collaboratively to make sure the future is positive,” she says. “That’s something I love about my job, knowing that every day I am contributing to the bigger picture of tackling climate change.

“I’ve always enjoyed being outside in nature – and when we learned about sustainability in school, it was something that really interested me. My dad has worked in the energy sector for 44 years and hearing him talk about how everything used to be driven by coal-fired power stations, and how we’re heading towards solar and wind energy, really piqued my interest.”

Jade Kimpton, who is studying for a foundation degree in electrical power engineering. Photograph: Jason Alden

Kimpton hopes her apprenticeship will lead to a career as a commissioning engineer, helping to bring new-generation technology to the grid. “For young people like me, being part of the net-zero energy workforce means working towards delivering a clean, fair and affordable future,” she says. “What we’re doing will benefit everyone.”

With passionate people like Kimpton applying their skills to the UK’s net zero ambitions, Barnes is feeling positive about the path ahead.

“The understanding that everybody can play a part in the future of our country is particularly appealing to young people,” she says. “Working for the greater good leads to a sense of purpose and job satisfaction for everyone involved in the creation of a cleaner and more resilient energy system.”

Find out more about The Great Grid Upgrade here

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