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Energy supply

In relative terms energy supply (NACE 40 – electricity, gas, steam and hot water supply) is not a very important employer. The share of this sector on total employment was some 1.1% in 2007, i.e. roughly 56 thousand workers. In recent years the overall number of employees decreased by some 13 thousand people.

The changes in the rate of employment were caused, above all, by structural adjustment, but also by technological advancement and the related growth in labour productivity and the outsourcing of some activities (particularly services). Employment should not decrease significantly in the future, because increasing competition in the energy market will force enterprises to pay more attention to obtaining and looking after customers. The demand for jobs in customer care and also in ICT will rise.

Energy supply is one of the skills - intensive sectors. The proportion of jobs requiring tertiary qualifications is quickly growing, particularly in electricity and steam supply, while jobs where basic skills suffice are gradually being phased out. Occupations requiring full secondary education (with “maturita”) have become the most important group in the sector, while the importance of jobs designated for vocational qualifications holders decreased.

What is very unfavourable is the age structure of the workforce in the energy sector – they rank among the oldest in the CR. The average age is 44, while the average age in the economy as a whole is 40. The proportion of young workers is constantly decreasing along with an increasing share of workers approaching retirement. This is one of the major future threats for the sector. The proportion of employees aged 55 and more increased from less than 13% in 2002 to 18% in 2007. On the other hand, the number of workers aged up to 34 dropped from 19 thousand to less than 14 thousand and their proportion in total employment in this sector went down from 28% to 25%.  Although there is no optimal age structure of the workforce, it is clear that sectors where young people are underrepresented face certain disadvantages. Practical experience and more prudence in decision-making that are typical of older workers are not sufficiently complemented by new knowledge and drive – i.e. qualities that young people can offer. There is a number of experts in the energy sector who stay at work, particularly in specialised occupations, although they are around 70 years old. The reason is that their experience and knowledge are priceless and the substitute that schools  and the labour market can offer is insufficient both in qualitative and quantitative terms.

The skills intensity of occupations expressed as a proportion of various jobs increases in the energy sector as a whole. In particular, there is an increasing proportion of technicians (from 29% in 2002 to 37% in 2007). What is also favourable is the increase in the proportion of experts who bring in innovation and technological changes. The proportion of skilled workers remains the same (28 %).

Two major trends will influence the energy sector in the following years :

Change in the energy mix: the energy sector is at present based on the predominating combination of coal and nuclear energy with the corresponding occupational and qualification requirements.  The CR can decide to proceed further in this direction and not to change the energy mix in a major way. However, this scenario is rather risky from the perspective of human resources.  Institutions offering study programmes in the field of energy (particularly heavy-current electrical engineering) face a severe decline in the number of applicants.

Figure: Trend of available ISCED3C graduates in period 2001-2011

Balance of expected retirements and number of available graduates of relevant fields of study 

Young graduates do not join the workforce because their occupational preferences change. If the CR sets on the path of major changes in the energy mix (a robust increase in the proportion of renewable resources, a higher proportion of electricity generated from gas, or transformation from the position of a net importer to a net exporter), the changes in requirements for human resources will also be significant.

The increasing average age of the workforce boosts the importance of generational replacement  and of continuing professional education. However, the low prestige of the energy sector, unclear policies for its development and the resulting fuzzy prospects for employment in this sector – all this slashes the interest in studying  “energy disciplines”.

If the current trends in the labour market remain unchanged for the sector, by 2016 there will be a shortage of up to 14 thousand workers in electricity, heating and gas distribution. Even if we assume that not all vacated positions will have to be filled (as a result of growing labour productivity), it is clear that the shortage will be considerable. The most severe problem faced by enterprises will concern lack of workers with secondary vocational qualifications, where the expected inflow of new graduates will be nearly four times lower than the number of workers who are expected to retire in the same period of time.

As regards occupations requiring full secondary education, the number of new graduates will be twice as low as the demand, and the same will apply to tertiary education graduates – i.e. their number will be 50% lower than what enterprises are expected to require as a result of the natural outflow of the workforce.

Figure: Balance of expected retirements and number of available graduates of relevant fields of study

 Balance of expected retirements and number of available graduates of relevant fields of study

It will be necessary to make robust investments in the transmission and distribution networks. In particular, it will be of primary importance to ensure a higher level of system reliability and security, to provide for management of distribution of electricity from renewable resources, to involve smaller sources, to satisfy the increasing number of consumers, to expand connection to Europe-wide energy networks and, in the case of gas, also to increase the storage capacity. This will result in increased requirements for the number and quality of the workforce, their technical skills, decision-making capacities and the ability to handle stressful situations.

Requirements will also toughen as regards the capacity to operate ever  more complex technologies (ICT, automation) and the level of interdisciplinary knowledge. Workers should not only master their work, but they should be able to understand the preceding and following stages of production and distribution. Enterprises already complain about the inappropriate quality of graduates and the workforce available in the labour market.

The energy sector currently does not have its own institution dealing with research and development. This decreases its chances of major involvement in the development of new technologies that make use of new sources of energy. Talented students therefore do not show much interest in becoming top experts and researchers in energy. This, in the long term, may lead to the Czech Republic ’s dependence on transfer of foreign technologies. 

There is a low level of interest in study programmes focused on design and construction in energy engineering. This field does not fall directly into the energy supply sector, but it is closely linked to its development. The Czech   Republic will have to make big investments both in modernisation of outdated power plants and in the construction of new facilities. Moreover, a new opportunity is emerging for Czech suppliers consisting in supplies for power plants in developing markets in Asia and Eastern Europe . The CR has a long tradition in this area but the current shortage of skilled designers and engineers limits its potential in this respect.

The shortage of energy specialists is a Europe-wide problem. Companies in Western Europe seek key professionals all over the world including, of course, the CR. This may result in an outflow of skilled workers who will go after high wages in Western Europe . There will be a strong demand across Europe particularly for specialists in nuclear energy. Many Western countries run special schemes focusing on imports of workers in short supply. In the Czech   Republic the “green cards scheme” is currently based on information about the actual shortage of occupations, and not on information about the future labour market developments. 

The shortage of skilled workers in nuclear energy may threaten development plans that are being prepared in this sector. If the current level of interest in the relevant study programmes remains unchanged there will not be enough technical experts to complete the construction of the Temelín nuclear power plant or to further reconstruct the Dukovany nuclear power plant. Moreover, the Czech market of nuclear energy experts will be increasingly weakened by demand on the part of Germany (where it will be necessary to decommission some nuclear plants) and Slovakia (where the Mochovce nuclear plant is planned to be completed). The Czech   Republic currently has an advantage in that domestic workers were involved in the building of the newest nuclear power plant in Europe and therefore have extensive experience with the complex process of putting it into operation. However, this advantage will diminish in years to come. 

A major problem in the area of human resources may occur in the gas industry – particularly if the use of gas will further expand. Most systems were built and put into operation by experts in the past 20 years. This generation is approaching retirement age and a problem arises as to who will replace them. Some professions have disappeared, e.g. those concerned with gasification of coal. In some time there will be a similar lack of experts in compression stations, etc. There is a very limited supply of study programmes in this field. The largest part of the qualification must therefore be acquired in practice or via in-service training provided by companies or through courses held under the patronage of professional associations in the gas industry.

There will be growing requirements in the energy sector for savings, energy audit and management –  energy management in the CR is still not very efficient. The knowledge and capacities related to achieving savings are inappropriate and they will have to be strengthened in the long term. Another major trend is the growing proportion of renewable sources of energy which, again, is not backed up by the development of new competencies and study programmes. The energy sector will undergo major changes in upcoming years that will change it entirely. However, these changes will also constitute new and robust challenges for the labour market, education and human resources.

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