The use of hydrogen to carry energy can help decarbonise industrial sectors traditionally reliant on fossil fuels. Scotland has an ambition to become a leading hydrogen producer and exporter, strategically focusing on hydrogen production using electricity from renewable sources.
The hydrogen sector offers a significant economic opportunity in Scotland, predicted to generate an income of more than £30bn by 2035, and it will require a highly skilled workforce to facilitate all aspects of its value chain.
The Scottish Government commissioned research through ClimateXChange to analyse the current and forecasted jobs and skills demands in the hydrogen economy, considering the ambitions defined in the Hydrogen Action Plan.
To explore this, Optimat carried out research to model the scale of economic activity in the hydrogen sector and, in consultation with the key industry stakeholders and skills providers, define skills needs in the emerging hydrogen economy.
The research showed that the hydrogen economy will create a large number of jobs, with more than 18,000 people expected to be employed each year by 2035.
Until 2030, most of these jobs are likely to be dedicated to designing, installing and commissioning hydrogen production facilities. Between 2030 and 2035, the highest demand for skilled workforce could be seen in the export-related activities.
A highly skilled technical workforce will be increasingly sought-after in areas such as hydrogen storage and installation of purpose-built infrastructure for transport.
A purpose-built hydrogen pipeline, which the research expects by 2035, will create a significant number of jobs in construction and installation, accounting for nearly 20% of all hydrogen jobs.
Operation of hydrogen production facilities and transport are likely to create only a minor fraction of jobs of 1-2% each owing to automation, which, in turn, increases the demand for a data-skilled workforce in the energy industry.
Additionally, there will likely be new jobs to install and commission renewable electricity facilities that will provide energy to run hydrogen facilities.
In consultation with the key stakeholders, this research found that the skills needed to enable the hydrogen economy are not fundamentally different from those in other process industries.
However, while some skills transfer will help facilitate the early stages of the hydrogen economy, there will not be enough workers to scale up the economic activity to the ambitions highlighted in Scotland’s Hydrogen Action Plan. Moreover, there is a risk of competition with other energy-related sectors.
This means that the demand for the existing skilled workforce will increase for skills linked to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). For example, digital and data science skills will facilitate remote monitoring of hydrogen production, metering and other automated processes.
Education and training required
The majority of the skills required will be at college and graduate levels. Engineering graduates, in particular, are predicted to become the most highly sought-after skilled workers.
The industry reports an appetite for graduates that can demonstrate technical skills. With this in mind, apprenticeships could be a crucial route to providing skilled workers for the hydrogen industry.
The research highlights that all aspects of hydrogen workforce development will require engagement from industry. This includes short-term strategic priorities, such as training the trainers, adapting courses, creating appropriate modular courses and on-the-job training.
An immediate skills training need will be health and safety of hydrogen handling. All technical workers in process industries, regardless of their level of expertise, will need upskilling and re-certification to operate with hydrogen at scale and in novel applications.
Large hydrogen hubs are expected to be located close to where hydrogen will be used or exported.
An aspect to consider is connections to offshore wind projects that could power production facilities. Similarly, low-carbon hydrogen plants are likely to be built in locations with infrastructure for natural gas handling, such as St Fergus and Grangemouth.
At the early stages of hydrogen economy development, technical talent will need to be available for pilot projects in rural and remote regions because these sites will provide crucial learning experiences. However, when hydrogen production scales up, the skilled workforce is likely to be mobile as seen in the oil and gas sector.
Looking to the future
Demand for hydrogen skills will increase quickly as the sector accelerates within the next five years to meet the ambition outlined in the Hydrogen Action Plan. Scotland is in a strong position to develop its hydrogen economy, initially by using transferable skills from the oil, gas and process industries, and in the longer term, adapting the skills provision to ensure the development of a flexible and mobile energy workforce.