In the wake of the financial crisis, global unemployment rates have hit 6% with no improvement projected until after 2016. Recent estimates suggest that the most severely affected are today’s youth, with their global unemployment rate reaching 12.7%. Even the most educated generation in terms of higher degree attainment, the Millennial Generation born between early 1980s and mid-90s, are struggling to secure employment.
Recent estimates indicate that about 5 million people worldwide work either directly or indirectly in the renewable energy industries, the majority of which are currently located in China, Brazil, the European Union (particularly Germany), and the United States of America; specifically in solar and biofuels. While job estimates vary, the question is: to what extent will the growth of the renewable energy sector positively impact employment?
The demand for energy is forecasted to increase as the population grows. Renewables accounted for 16% of global final energy consumption and 20% of the global electricity supply in 2010 according to the REN21 Renewable Energy Global Status Report 2011. Given the global investment trends in renewable energy, these figures are expected to increase. By 2030, it is forecasted that investment in renewable energy will almost double that of 2011, exceeding USD 450 billion, generating more jobs in this sector.
If deployment targets are to be achieved and job benefits maximized in the renewable energy sector, it is necessary to increase education and training. Although certain knowledge and skills are transferable, particularly between the fields of conventional fossil fuels and renewables, there are sector specific skills unique to renewables which will need to be developed. This demand has given rise to a handful of inter-disciplinary and highly specialised programmes being offered at universities.
Against this backdrop, the mismatch between what companies require in terms of skills from graduates and what is taught at educational and tertiary institutions remains a problem, and one which the renewable energy industry is not exempt from. This may stem, at least in part, from renewable energy education, training facilities and resources being unevenly distributed worldwide. Countries that at present possess larger renewable energy capacities tend to lead in the field of education and training. Whereas other countries with significant renewable energy potential, do not have the relevant or sufficient number of renewable energy programmes to educate and train individuals, and support the sectors national growth. It is important to provide the appropriate quality and quantity of education in renewables, which ultimately increases the number of suitable candidates for positions of employment in the industry.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) is a non-profit, inter-governmental organisation, mandated by governments worldwide to promote the widespread and increased adoption, and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy. At present however, significant knowledge gaps remain regarding which renewable energy training programmes exist, who the responsible parties are and what the most pressing needs include.
To tackle this situation, IRENA developed the ‘IRENA Renewable Energy Learning Partnership’ (IRELP) portal to raise awareness of readily available renewable energy education and training, thereby enhancing their accessibility. The portal was created to meet the growing worldwide demand for skilled renewable energy personnel, and aims to bridge the gap between the renewable energy market requirements and what is taught by educational systems worldwide through collaboration with academia and the renewable energy industry.
IRELP is a central hub that pools renewable energy education and training resources that often tend to be widely dispersed, and displays renewable energy scholarship and internship opportunities alongside news and events. More specifically, IRELP is comprised of a global education and training database that includes both past and upcoming webinars, a library of renewable energy training materials and an e-learning platform where users receive support through online lectures and tutorials. IRELP also provides information relating to workshops, courses and degree programmes so that users may identify the educational institutions where they may further their education in the field of renewable energy. This collaborative platform allows for mass global contribution to the database ensuring international coverage and up-to-date information.
IRELP facilitates access to renewable energy education, connecting those seeking to further their knowledge and skills in this sector. Content is particularly relevant to technicians seeking practical training, professionals of various backgrounds wishing to enter the field of renewables, and university students studying in fields relevant to renewable energy. Through collaboration with academia, renewable energy industry and recruitment agencies, skill shortages can be identified and content aligned closer to market needs.
With the support of leading partners in the field of renewable energy, IRELP will promote the industry’s global development through enabling increased access to information on education, training, and institutions. The subsequent increase in the number of renewable energy specialists will meet the growing number of jobs available in this sector. Perhaps most importantly, IRELP aims to educate and change perceptions among the younger generations who will continue to drive the growth of renewable energy into the future.
Lead image: Stack of books via Shutterstock