The rush for renewable energy is upon us – but have the IPPs got a handle on labour?

By Wayne Alcock, MD at Quyn International Outsourcing

As the energy crisis continues and load shedding intensifies, South Africa is desperate to see the finalisation of projects that will add emergency generation capacity. However, delays created by a court challenge to the emergency power program has delayed the provision of 2 000 megawatts of electricity to the national grid by several months. Given the urgency of the situation, we can afford no further delays. With Bid Window 5 of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) due to open soon, there will be numerous projects all looking at recruiting local resources. To carefully balance the dire need to ease pressure on the national electricity grid, with an increased demand for skilled resources to complete, run and maintain emergency and alternative generation capacity projects, Temporary Employment Services (TES) providers can be instrumental.

Timing is critical

As emergency generation projects scramble to get back on track and Bid Window 5 of the REIPPPP commences, project timelines will overlap and there will be a huge surge in the requirement for skills and labour for renewable energy projects. Local skills in rural communities where these projects are based will be in high demand along with the necessary niche competencies, such as electrical and mechanical engineers. Recruiting the right skills locally and on-boarding the labour force required for each phase of each project is time consuming and costly, particularly from a payroll, human resources, and legal perspective. The independent power producers involved will have little margin for error, and will be hard pressed to meet project deadlines. To expedite timelines, it will be necessary to bring out the big guns. Outsourcing the labour component of these projects will be the most cost-effective and time-efficient way of ensuring that these projects are completed successfully without further undue delay.

Skills and labour demands

As with any new project, it will be difficult for IPPs to assemble the teams required. In terms of skills required to work on renewable energy plants, broadly speaking, there will be a massive need for management, electrical and structural engineering skills, particularly electrical and mechanical engineering. Ancillary skills that will be required include planners, quantity surveyors, as well as health and safety officers to ensure that operations are compliant with the applicable regulations. Most sought-after skills will include electricians, particularly those with experience working on PV solar farms.

Challenges for Independent Power Producers

Finding the skills necessary will be challenging for IPPs, given South Africa’s current skills shortage. Recruitment is not IPPs’ core business, and the work is likely to take place in remote areas. On the other hand, TES providers have networks in all industries across the country which will make it easier to source the manpower needed for these projects. The use of TES providers also provides the necessary flexibility to match skilled individuals to fixed term projects and will enable the same skills to be applied wherever they’re needed. With experience already garnered in previous bidding rounds, and working on other private alternative energy generation projects, TES providers in this sector have established a system that works quickly and favourably, particularly in remote areas where local cooperation is required. TES providers are also experienced at community engagement and can easily handle recruiting and on-boarding sufficient labour, even where the headcount runs into the thousands.

Hand over the headache

In addition to handling every time-consuming aspect of recruitment, TES providers will also make short work of the legal and payroll processes, as well as any required induction, training, or medical assessments. Making use of a labour broker also ensures uniformity of working conditions – everyone gets paid at the same time and is subject to the same rules and disciplinary procedures. Ultimately, when the success of every project depends on time and skills, TES providers are the most effective mechanism to source the right people for large, complex engineering and construction projects.

 

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