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Exploring the Gap Between Skills and the Renewable Energy Industry

Exploring the Gap Between Skills and the Renewable Energy Industry

The renewable energy sector is one of the fastest-growing industries globally. According to the 2017 Global Talent Index, there is an estimated 8.1 million people employed within the renewables space. In South Africa, the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) had estimated that an additional 109,444 direct, FTE person-years of employment would be created through the REIPPPP Bid Rounds 1- 4. The industry is still expanding and has the capacity to employ many more people but is hindered by the fact that not all required skills are always readily available. Based on our recruitment experience, there are some occupations which have proven to be very difficult to source for, often going for months before finding the appropriate candidate. Conversations with multiple employers in the IPP industry confirm that there is indeed a skills shortage in certain verticals.

There is a general scarcity of experienced technical support skills in South Africa’s PV space, such as Electrical Engineers, Operations and Maintenance Managers, and Mechanical Technicians – the scarcity of skills is amplified as the IPP’s and C&I service providers compete for transferrable skills. While most entry-level engineers graduate from universities equipped with a Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) or a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in either electrical or mechanical engineering, most of them would have little to no exposure to renewables and therefore cannot add any form of substantive value from day one. It then falls on the employer to get them into some type of learnerships or mentoring programmes to facilitate skills transfer needed to equip them with relevant industry skills like Solar PV, Wind, Energy Storage, etc, depending on the industry, and technology. According to the ILO report titled “Anticipating skill needs for green jobs”, published in 2015, there are two main types of skills shortage, which may exist separately or in combination:

  1. A quantitative skills shortage, under which the number of workers available with broadly suitable skills is insufficient.
  1. A qualitative gap under which the number of people available may be sufficient, but their skills are deficient relative to what is needed.

Based on the above, clearly the latter is true for the renewable energy sector in South Africa. The use of AltGen outsourced services can provide a solution to this deficiency. We provide basic upskilling services and where the sought-after scarce skill cannot easily be found AltGen Recruitment focuses on sourcing the applicable skills from the local districts. Currently, in the Northern Cape, AltGen Employment Services has developed a Renewable Energy Industry Specific Skills Programme, for IPP’s and O&M’s, with the aim of upskilling members in the local community to prepare them for formal employment. Due to the high unemployment rates in the Northern Cape, the goal of AltGen’s Solar Works Programme is to develop training programmes that allow community members to contribute meaningfully to the IPP’s operations and in turn, find long-term employment in the local community or start their own businesses.

WFM Sewing Ladies
Women in the Workforce Management programme making PPE for community members.

The scarcity gets deeper when we go into specialist niche roles like SCADA Automation Engineers, Wind Analysts, Power Studies Engineers, Energy Storage Engineers, Project Developers, and the list goes on. After further probing with employers as to why these skills are scarce, 90% of them responded by saying there is “simply not many of them around.” This scarcity puts employers in a predicament to outsource these skills to expatriates from European countries until this option is no longer cost-effective. Searching for this kind of talent locally takes more than the generic methods of recruitment, including techniques such as word of mouth. The Global Energy Talent Index (GETI) survey reveals that there is cause for concern regarding skills training and knowledge transfer within renewables. In South Africa, Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) is playing a vital role in coordinating and funding skills development initiatives. According to the Energy and Water Sector Education and Training Authority (EWSETA) 2018-2019 report, they have successfully supported 115 firms with mandatory skills development grants.

There have been many instances where employers incur the costs of developing entry-level talent for periods of 12 – 18 months only to lose them to their competition before they reap the returns on such investments. When talent is thin, the immediate reaction by some employers is to throw money at the situation and out-bid their competition. This has an adverse effect of inflating the price of talent and can potentially degenerate into some kind of a price war. What therefore begins as a skills shortage, quickly translates into a retention challenge. Attracting skilled talent is generally a challenge and retaining scarce skills is even harder. Based on the conversations we have had; 70% of employers have developed different strategies to hold on to their treasured skills. This involves taking a genuine interest in their career development, planning advancements, and creating favourable conditions to keep them enthused. Over and above, employers also shared with us that they offer profit-sharing incentives and extended leave as additional incentives to remain loyal to the company.

The renewable energy sector, just like many other sectors in South Africa, is still very much a male-dominated space. In South Africa, it is estimated that the sector employs an estimated 32% women and 68% males. According to the GETI 2021 Report, it is found that globally the renewable energy sector comprises 78% males and 22% females. Within AltGen Recruitment, females constitute 25% of our total placements into the industry, which is a success story as female talent can be difficult to acquire. It is also notable to mention that currently, 44% of AltGen Employment Services upskilling programme consists of women. In our experience, it can prove challenging to source female engineers or technicians. Historically, it was accustomed that women were placed in strong administrative roles, however, times are changing with an increasing amount of woman seen in managerial roles.

Solar Works Programme Members
AltGen Employment Services Staff Compliment Consists of 44% Women.

There is no silver bullet or instant solution to solving the scarcity of skills and lack of gender diversity in the industry. Listed below are some of the steps and initiatives, which if implemented, might potentially help to alleviate the situation: –

  • Gender diversity and transformation in the sector needs to be more deliberate, planned, and more structured to avoid leaving it to chance. Employers should consider deliberately setting targets to attract more female talent of colour into technical roles in the industry, even if it means bringing them in as semi-skilled technicians.
  • Take a genuine interest in the growth and development of your talent to keep them enthused. Implement proper employee retention strategies which extend beyond good salaries which will provide them with a sense of belonging.
  • A closer partnership between the industry and tertiary institutions is required. A deliberate acknowledgement and strengthening of this symbiotic relationship by increasing interactions and collaboration between the two will influence the quality and diversity of graduates which tertiary institutions produce. The 2017 Global Energy Talent Index shows that 45% of employers in the renewable energy sector believe that they can overcome the skills gap through partnering with tertiary institutions.
  • Create deliberate opportunities and platforms for skills transfer by pairing skilled specialists with junior engineers and technicians. This will inspire younger talent to venture into niche spaces of specialization which they never knew existed.

Sean Gibson

Managing Director

“AltGen is all about effecting change, through people. With integrity, and passion”. 

Managing Director and Founder of the AltGen’ Group. Sean has played a pivotal role in steering and leading the vision and mission of AltGen, making AltGen the only highly specialist renewable energy recruitment firm operating within the renewable energy and sustainability space in Africa. Sean oversees the success of the entire group of AltGen companies.

Sean holds a Master of Philosophy in Sustainable Development from Stellenbosch University as well as an Honours degree from Rhodes University

Robert Veith

Sales Director

“Without quality and intelligent effort, there is no success and no reward.”

Joining AltGen in 2014, Robert started as a Recruitment Consultant and has since become our Recruitment Director overseeing the Recruitment and Executive Search division. Robert has extensive experience in securing talent for rare skills in the energy engineering market, including skills to the likes of Power System Engineers, SCADA Engineers, Project Developers and Electrical Engineering skills specific to design.

Through Robert’s leadership, each recruitment team is enabled to focus on their specific area of expertise, ensuring all client hiring needs are met. Through Robert’s years of dedication to sourcing and securing top talent in the industry, he has a wealth of insight into the skills market and provides our clients with a competitive advantage in a scarce skills environment enabling them to effectively execute on some of the most challenging renewable energy projects across Africa. Robert is also responsible for growth of the engineering recruitment team.

Robert holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing Management from UNISA as well as a National Diploma in Electrical Engineering from CPUT.

Lindy Taylor

Business Development & Innovation Director

“The success of an organisation is defined by its people.”

As the Innovation & Business Development Manager, Lindy is responsible for the marketing and business development activities of AltGen. Through her big picture vision, Lindy has enabled AltGen to remain responsive in the cleantech space. She is responsible for engagements with new clients.
Lindy initially joined AltGen in 2015 and has grown into being an integral member of the senior management team. She ensures a collaborative approach with clients catering to their custom needs. Her focus is on attaining new clients, as well as handling contractual relationships with new and existing stakeholders.
Lindy holds a Bachelor’ Degree in Social Sciences from Rhodes University.

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Chris Roetz

Workforce Management Services: General Manager

“My goal is to deliver exceptional operational performance within AltGen – Northern Cape building on people, energy and sustainability”

Chris Roetz oversees AltGen’s Workforce Management division in the Northern Cape. He is responsible for the successful execution of HR advisory and management services for clients’ utility-scale projects in the region. Currently, Roetz mobilises an outsourced staff complement of over 200 employees. He also steers AltGen’s Solar Works programme in conjunction with his Pofadder based team.

Chris has 20 years of professional experience in an HR and outsourced staffing capacity within the energy environment and holds a National Diploma in Human Resource Management from UNISA.

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Muslim Janoowala

Consulting Services: Senior Consultant & Business Development Lead

“My focus is to be able to do impactful work, being in the front lines of the development sector finding solutions to safe and reliable drinking water, power and sanitation”

Muslim Janoowala drives AltGen’s consulting services arm. Muslim has 10+ years of experience in the renewable energy, water and general engineering space in Eastern Africa and has played an instrumental role in the success of AltGen consulting engagement on the AFD Green Mini-grid Programme in Kenya. His expertise caters to M&E activities, project management, impact analysis and assessments of funded water and renewable energy programmes that “enlighten” and uplift communities in rural Africa.

Muslim holds an MSc in Construction Management from Cass Business School and a Bachelor of Engineering in Architectural Environment Engineering from the University of Nottingham.

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Wiehahn de Jager

Senior Consultant & Team Lead

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

Wiehahn de Jager has specialist recruitment expertise in the finance sector and has worked on various mandates for large international and national clients on both a retained and contingency basis. Wiehahn has gained an in-depth understanding of the professional skills operating within the capital markets, fin-tech, and green finance space, with a keen focus on talented professionals within the African context. He has a strong track record successfully working on a range of skill levels, from Directors to Analysts, with a special focus on professionals from mid-level up to Corporate Executives.

Wiehahn holds a Bachelor in Law from the University of Stellenbosch.

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Robert Slater

Senior Consultant & Team Lead

“I love to serve people and be the steppingstone between them and their dream job.”

Robert Slater is an expert in the talent acquisition of carbon management, environmental and social governance-related professionals across Africa. Robert has successfully closed mandates for clients who are focused on sourcing skills with experience in climate change, clean cooking, sustainability, and agricultural environments.

Slater cares deeply for people and the planet, he has a Life Coach Training certification from New Insights and volunteers at ON A MISSION, an NPO which enables businesses and individuals to invest in carbon offset projects. He holds an Honours Degree in Environmental Management from UNISA.

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Natascha Marais


“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. I look for people who want to change the world and introduce them to like-minded companies.”

Natascha Marais is highly skilled when it comes to sourcing those “unicorns” for our clients in the OEM, AI and technology, economic development, and legal spaces.

Natascha has proven experience in identifying and onboarding professionals to the likes of business developers, sales, and account managers as well as technical sales or software developer skills.

Marais holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Law from Pearson Institute.


If you are serious about moving to the UK and are a PV Design Engineer or have engineering experience in offshore wind, in grid & transmission/network planning, or sub-station design and construction then let us know!
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