Outsourcing the skills supply problem

Paul MacFarlane, HR Director | Utilities
16 September 2019
Group image of Amey employees
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We are fortunate to work in an industry which supplies services fundamental to the basic human needs of every member of our society. It’s an industry increasingly on a mission to make our world more sustainable by conserving the precious resources needed for life and by enabling a transformation in our energy supply and water usage habits.

However, to achieve this vision of a sustainable future it’s only right that we address the challenges presented by an ageing workforce and loss of knowledge that will result when they retire.

Ofwat’s resilience in the round concept places an increased focus on developing resilient people plans. And with asset owners largely depending on their supply chain to build, maintain and enhance their networks, it’s surprising to see that investment in apprenticeships in Tier 1 and 2 supply chain averages just 1.5% of the workforce. One quarter of the level of asset owners. 


With short procurement cycles and commercial pressures to deliver more for less in each regulatory period, it could be argued that across the supply chain, investment in talent and apprenticeships are given less priority towards the end of each cycle. This results in a disjointed and incoherent approach to sustainable talent development.

As suppliers, we’ve already accepted the challenge of finding better ways to do things, innovating and improving our services to support our client’s efficiency, sustainability and customer service goals. The same now needs to be applied to managing the future supply of skills which the success of the above relies on. We need to engage and address the risks that some commercial models are potentially creating for the future sustainability of talent across our industry.


We’re currently working as a member of the sector-wide Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership to explore new and innovative ways of delivering cross-industry apprenticeship programmes. The aim is to drive long-term skills development and investment, and remove the disincentives to invest that currently exist within the supply chain.  We’re hoping that as one of the five lead energy and utilities companies that developed the Procurement Skills Accord, we can encourage others to join a working group that will look at approaches to delivering apprenticeship programmes and promote collaboration on skills development across the industry. The five Procurement Skills Accord commitments are:

  1. Address sector-wide skills gaps and shortages

  2. Promote signing up to the Accord through the supply chain

  3. Promote relevant skills development across the supply chain through procurement

  4. Continuously improve performance

  5. Monitor and report progress

We also must recognise that while we are progressing, we are not the only sector with this agenda and we need to treat this subject as a matter of urgency to avoid losing talent to other infrastructure sectors. We should be proud of the work we have started but we have real challenges which can only be solved by end-to-end supply chain collaboration, better interworking between the people and procurement functions and exploring contracting models which promote workforce development and sustainability. And we must do this while still delivering operationally against our commitments. There is an amazing opportunity to create brilliant careers for all ability levels in this sector and to contribute to the future sustainability of our planet and communities. All the intentions in our industry are right we just need to be open minded and seek creative solutions to the commercial and contractual barriers which could undermine our great intentions.

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