Partnerships key to green skills

Chesney Bradshaw

A leading power and automation group is developing green skills in the renewable energy sector.

Solar power plants have upped the demand for green skills.  (supplied)

Just a few years ago when people mentioned the concept of green skills it seemed like something far in the distant future.

But with increased environmental awareness and commitment to greening the economy, green skills are starting to become important in achieving better environmental management.

What exactly are green skills? In the National Skills Development Strategy III, green skills cut across a wide range of sectors that are expected to drive the green economy.

Some of these sectors include agriculture, energy supply, fisheries, forests, green buildings, green cities, greener transport, industry and manufacturing, natural resources, retail, tourism, waste management and water.

Green economy jobs span a range of skills, educational back- grounds and occupational profiles. They include fields such as engineering, architecture, marketing and customer services; trades such as plumbing or electrical wiring; policy-making; as well as jobs in renewable energy, such as solar panel installers or wind turbine operators.

The department of higher education and training’s progress report quotes the multiple studies in the New Growth Path, which projected that green industries could create anything from 300 000 to 400 000 new jobs.

These jobs would be found in the green economy subsectors such as waste management, biodiversity and natural resource management, sustainable public transportation, wind energy, solar energy, waste- to-energy, biofuels, building and housing energy efficiency, solar water heating and electrical vehicles and lithium-iron batteries.

Partnerships

What this means is that the shift to a green economy will require training and retraining of skills to match demand. It will not only mean addressing green skills short- ages, but will require a focus and approach to the development of green skills through frameworks, skills funds forums, curriculum development as well as green skills lecturer training in further education and training (FET) colleges, universities of technology and university engineering departments.

Important to the development of green skills will be FET college partnerships. Already development agencies have engaged with the department of higher education and training to develop lecturers at FET colleges and are facilitating industry participation in the development of the curriculum for green skills.

ABB South Africa has been involved with developing FET lecturers in green skills. The company’s ABB School of Maintenance hosted lecturers from the South West Gauteng College during their vacation break to present a module on solar power, which ties in with the green skills curriculum.

The lecturers were delighted with the training and exposure to solar from a leading power and automation company.

They were keen to obtain practical demonstration equipment for their classrooms and workshops on solar technology.

Sector development

As the supplier of two turnkey photovoltaic (PV) power plants in Limpopo province for the Witkop and Soutpan solar parks, ABB South Africa has been closely involved in developing and hiring green skills in the solar sector.

At its own head office, logistics and manufacturing centre in Long- meadow, Johannesburg, it has hired engineers in the design and project management of solar plants.

Together with the special-purpose entities Core Energy and Erika Energy, whose primary stake- holders include Sun Edison, a leading global solar energy service provider, ABB has hired many solar panel installers and other technical specialists to develop the plants. When these solar plants are operational, they will require hiring of skilled people such as site man- agers for the solar plants and electrical technicians to operate and maintain the power plants.

Public-private partnerships will be one of the key factors in growing green skills by partnering with FET colleges as well as bridging the gap between FET colleges and the requirements of commerce and industry.

Projects such as the solar plants in Limpopo that ABB is working on are helping to develop and transfer green skills in the solar energy sector.

These partnerships are also pro- viding important links to educational institutions such as FET colleges, universities of technology as well as university engineering faculties to help build a skilled and capable workforce through technology transfer that contributes towards the expansion of the green economy in South Africa.

Chesney Bradshaw is head of sustainability at ABB South Africa and a member of the Greening the Future Awards judges panel.

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