The emerging gold rush for skills in the renewable energy sector – how TES providers can bridge the gap

By Pierre Bekker, MD at Quyn Recruitment & Staffing Solutions

South Africa is experiencing a monumental uptick in its renewable energy sector, driven by a number of factors including rapid expansion, increased investment, and the rising need for homes and businesses to reduce their reliance on the national power grid. This burgeoning industry, however, faces a formidable challenge: a critical shortage of skilled labour. As the demand for workers skilled in renewable energy continues to escalate, Temporary Employment Services (TES) providers emerge as pivotal players in addressing this pressing skills gap.

A growing industry with growing challenges

Recent stats drawn from Eskom data has revealed that South Africa’s installed solar PV capacity increased from 983MW in March 2022 to 4,412MW in June 2023. This is a 349% increase in a little over a year, which indicates that South Africa’s renewable energy sector is evolving at an unprecedented pace. The number of renewable energy projects has skyrocketed in recent years, so much so that the capacity to train a proficient workforce has been outstripped. Local and foreign investments are pouring into the sector, catalysing its growth, and intensifying the need for skilled professionals. Additionally, the transition from conventional to renewable energy sources necessitates a new spectrum of expertise and experience, spanning solar, wind, and energy storage technologies.

Despite the sector’s remarkable growth, several challenges loom large. Inadequate training opportunities hinder the development of a skilled workforce, exacerbated by the fast-paced project timelines that leave little room for comprehensive training. The evolving nature of renewable energy technologies demands specialised skills, such as those required for concentrated solar power (CSP) or wind turbine maintenance, along with an increase in the demand for certain trades, such as electricians and qualified health and safety professionals. Additionally, many large-scale renewable energy projects are in remote areas, posing difficulties in attracting and retaining qualified personnel.

Beefing up the renewable energy sector

Temporary Employment Services (TES) providers can play an instrumental role in addressing this skill gap in a number of ways. TES providers have invested significantly in building their talent pools and establishing extensive networks of skilled labour across the country. Companies that are planning renewable energy projects can tap into these networks and bypass the traditional time-consuming search for skills. For projects that are located in outlying areas, companies will benefit from partnering with a TES provider who already has experience working in remote locations, leveraging their existing databases to identify and recruit skilled personnel from nearby areas and engage with surrounding communities to ensure operational continuity.

These skills can be mobilised from one part of the country to another on demand, allowing skilled resources to be shared across multiple project sites which is a cost-effective short-term solution. In the longer term, TES providers can assist with upskilling the workforce, offering targeted training focused on specific renewable energy technologies, enabling individuals to quickly acquire the necessary skills. By deploying skilled professionals on temporary contracts, TES providers can then facilitate knowledge transfer to local workers, ensuring a sustainable talent pipeline.

Building a fit-for-purpose workforce

Companies operating within the renewables energy sector can contribute toward the advancement of their workforce in three major ways. First, by partnering with TES providers to tap into their established talent pool, training programs, and expertise in workforce management. Secondly, by getting involved in targeted training programs through the development of short, specialized training courses in areas like solar PV, wind, and CSP to equip individuals with the necessary skills for immediate project deployment, along with focusing on skills transfer. This can be done by designating specific roles within projects where skilled professionals can mentor and upskill local workers to ensure that knowledge remains within the community for future endeavours.