Opinion Piece

The renewable skills gap – the opportunity for South East Asia

Author: Daniel Gaefke, APAC Director, BayWa r.e.

The energy transition in South-East Asia could deliver a great socio-economic opportunity for the region if we act now; delivering thousands of job opportunities, education, and upskilling.  

The Asia Pacific region as a whole is home to 60% of the world’s population, its economy is forecast to triple over the next 20 years and demand for energy is also set to expand, with another 400GW needed over that same timeframe.

Many of the region’s countries are prioritising renewables as the critical piece in the climate change solution jigsaw. All the ingredients, you might think, for delivering renewable technology projects, at speed, to a welcoming audience of consumers.

However, there is a missing piece that needs finding, which is the lack of skills and training across the region. With governments setting up incentives and the acceleration of commercial projects through the realisation of grid parity, we are already seeing the need for skilled labour growing rapidly.

However, countries are simply not addressing the need to train their own people with the right skills that are needed to plan, build and operate renewable generation projects, such as wind and solar farms, over the longer term.

Bridging the skills gap 

Bringing in skilled workers from other countries to fill the gap also isn’t the answer. It’s costly, takes time, and is heavy on the logistics – where are you going to get your skilled people from, where will they live, do they need visas, how long will it take to get them on your soil and ready to work on your project? And that’s always assuming the right people with the skills and experience are available – they tend to be in high demand!

When your solar farm has been built and is up-and-running, all those skilled contractors will be off somewhere else, and you’ll be back to square one.

A socio-economic opportunity

I’ve worked in southeast Asia for many years and I can see there’s a huge gap here that needs to be filled. We need vocational schools, colleges, and universities to help equip the renewables engineers and technicians of the future, providing both vocational training focusing on qualified electricians and installation expertise, as well as more formal qualifications.

We need to be catching young people of 15-16 while they are still deciding what direction they want their lives to take and get them excited about the prospect of working in the renewable energy sector. That might mean work experience programmes, internships, or forming links with companies already working in the country. 

We’ve seen how today’s generations are much more attuned to the challenges of climate change and increasingly interested in careers that align with goals to reduce emissions and take more care of precious resources. The renewables sector has much to offer in this regard.

Corporate responsibility

Companies also have a key role to play here – it’s not just about government support or educational establishments stepping up. We can’t just stand on the sidelines; it’s in our interests, too, to have a skilled indigenous workforce that we can tap into in each of the countries or regions where we have a presence.

At BayWa r.e. we’ve previously delivered lectures and have installed a test system to help train students at the Universiti Malaysia Perlis. But much more is needed, and as a next step we are taking the learnings from this and looking at how business/education links can be better developed to meet the training needs of now and tomorrow.

Companies working alongside educators must be part of the solution. But we need to make sure that whatever angle we pursue works not only for businesses, but for the university and critically, of course, for the students.

We’ve also started training wholesalers that buy our solar systems, so their technicians are fully equipped to safely and efficiently carry out installations, large or small. These are skills that they can take back and share in their own workplaces. Young people most certainly are our future, but the current working generations have much to offer, too.

Looking forward

The Covid-19 pandemic has added a new dimension to the need to fill the skills gap. While many sectors of the economy have contracted, the need for more renewable energy generation has never been stronger. And any ‘build back better’ response must include steps to reduce carbon emissions and encourage a green economy.

I was very proud that BayWa r.e. was recently recognised by HR Asia magazine as a ‘Best Company to Work for in Asia’. We were one of the only renewable energy companies to win the award amongst other well-known companies such as Microsoft, SAP, Unilever and Maersk. I hope that as the renewables sector grows, we will be one of many in future years.

We know that this is the decade that matters when it comes to averting catastrophic global climate change, our final chance to make a difference. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the companies that make up the renewable energy sector could join forces with governments and educational establishments and help be architects of change?!


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