Skills centre ‘will support new jobs’

A �10MILLION skills centre to support thousands of new jobs in the offshore energy industry has been proposed for the east coast.

A feasibility study funded by the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) has highlighted Lowestoft’s PowerPark as a strong contender for the centre, which would provide specialist craft and technician training.

Celia Anderson, executive director of Skills for Energy, which undertook the study, warned there would be a “critical shortage” of skills across the energy sectors unless there was action now to expand the skills base.

“This is one of the most important initiatives in the region,” she said.

“If the East of England is to benefit from the massive investment planned in North Sea gas fields, carbon capture, energy industry decommissioning, wind farms and new nuclear energy, we have to ensure that our local workforce has the right skills.”

The report, by Nautilus Associates, said the area between the Humber, Greater Wash and Thames Estuary was set to be the world’s largest supplier of offshore wind power. The East of England also has two of the 11 Government-named sites for nuclear development at Bradwell and Sizwell and there was enormous potential for carbon capture and storage, it said.

With the North Sea gas business and the rapidly increasing demand for low carbon and offshore energy generation, it was remarkable that the region did not already have a centre of excellence for skills, it said.

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“In terms of wind power alone, we only have to look at the massive 1,000-turbine wind farm that’s going to be built on our own doorstep to see the employment potential for our region – if our people have the skills,” said Ms Anderson. “We have a real opportunity to position ourselves as a dominant force in the production, supply, storage and distribution of energy on an all-energy basis. But for us to benefit there is real urgency to act now to develop the strategies and resources for skills to meet the eventual demand.”

Skills for Energy, which is based at Gorleston, and supported by the East of England Energy Group (EEEGR), was set up to bridge skills gaps and shortages in the region. Its latest report said research indicated that jobs for new technicians, production operatives and administrative support staff could be measured in thousands, just for the gas and offshore wind sectors. The 1.5 acre centre should be located in the triangle formed by Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Leiston, said the study. Most of the companies consulted favoured basing it in Lowestoft, which was close to the burgeoning offshore wind farm business, and has office facilities at OrbisEnergy and development space. Blair Ainslie, managing director of Gorleston-based Seajacks UK, said: “This initiative is hugely important to our region and we have to do everything possible to make it come about.