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RIYADH: The speed of adoption of digital technologies in the energy sector will depend heavily on the ability to create a workforce with the right skills, according to an analysis.

The International Energy Agency said in its latest report that technologies will play a key role in the transition to more secure and sustainable energy systems.

The IEA found that the deployment of advanced technologies could help ensure energy efficiency, reliability and greater connectivity, along with reducing emissions.

“New digital tools – such as those that can help match energy supply with demand; prediction and detection of faults in networks; or give greater control to consumers – will enable faster integration of renewables, improve grid stability and unlock greater energy savings,” the energy agency said.

He added: “However, the speed of digitization will depend heavily on the energy sector’s ability to create a workforce with the right skills.”

The energy sector should focus more on digital roles

The IEA said the number of digital applications in the energy sector has increased worldwide. However, there is growing evidence that it remains generally insufficient, holding back greater investment in digitization.

The report cites research by EY and finds that 89 percent of participants from the energy sector identified skills gaps as the main challenge to accelerating the adoption of digital technologies.

“With most jobs requiring digital skills in the coming years, energy companies will increasingly compete for a limited pool of skilled workers to bridge the skills gap in the sector. This will require stronger and more cohesive digital recruitment strategies and training efforts,” says the IEA.

According to the report, countries can be divided into four groups based on their interest in hiring workers with digital profiles.

The first group includes countries such as Singapore, Portugal and Slovakia, where employers are actively recruiting workers with digital talent in all sectors, including roles in electricity companies.

In the second group are countries such as Australia and New Zealand, where hiring for technology roles by electricity companies is even stronger – outstripping digital hiring across all sectors.

Countries like USA, UK and Canada belong to the third group. In these countries, the proportion of vacancies requiring digital skills posted by electricity companies is higher than in the economy as a whole, but overall digital employment remains low.

In contrast, the fourth group sees low demand for digital roles in general and in the energy sector. It includes most EU member states and some Latin American and North African countries.

“Europe has had a consistently low share of digital jobs, especially between 2022 and 2023, suggesting that countries in the region may not fully benefit from their investments in digital equipment,” the IEA said.

According to the report, electricity companies have been slower to create significant numbers of digital jobs than other sectors such as finance, insurance and public administration.

“In recent years, digital job postings have approached 16 percent of all advertisements by financial and insurance companies, while the share of electricity companies has stagnated at around 11 percent, with a decline below 9 percent between 2017 and 2021,” notes the energy think tank.

A shift in the demand for skills

Expertise in the structured query language SQL – a programming language used to manage and process data – was among the most sought-after digital skills in the energy sector in 2012, according to the IEA.

At the time, demand for a workforce with expertise in scripting languages ​​or familiarity with cloud solutions was rare.

However, as of mid-2021, demand for workers with skills in data analysis, scripting languages, and cloud solutions, in addition to SQL database talent and cybersecurity expertise, has grown rapidly.

The report adds that the demand for employees skilled in machine learning, artificial intelligence or the Internet of Things is still very low, even though these are extremely powerful tools for power system management.

The Vitality of Bridging the Skills Gap

In its report, the energy agency warned that failure to bridge current knowledge gaps could create bottlenecks in efforts to build more secure and sustainable energy systems.

Underlining the need to adopt a skills-focused digital strategy in the energy sector, the IEA proposed some steps to improve and expand current initiatives.

According to the think tank, energy utilities can develop skills tracking mechanisms and systematize digital literacy metrics to ensure they have the talent to manage changing energy systems.

“In parallel, a clear understanding of the skills required can improve the effectiveness of policy measures to support the transition to a more sustainable economy,” the IEA said.

The report also highlighted that the energy sector should increase the attractiveness of digital roles by creating an environment of innovation and growth and offering attractive career paths and opportunities for professionals seeking dynamic positions.

The agency also warned that employees in the digital sector should be empowered with internal training programs.

“Utilities can implement training and development programs to equip current employees with essential digital skills, foster a culture of continuous learning, a sense of ownership and enable adaptation to technological advances,” the IEA said.

It added: “By designing training programs that are more inclusive – for example, if they are targeted to increase gender equality – governments and industry can respond to labor demand while taking advantage of opportunities to create a more diverse workforce of the future. ”

The IEA concluded by saying that energy companies can work with governments and other stakeholders to develop training initiatives and curricula tailored to current and future market demand for digital skills, creating a robust pool of well-trained talent.

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