This week Power Engineering International has been checking in with London and Brussels to assess how prepared governments are to assist coal power plant engineers in particular adapt to the phase-out of their industry due to decarbonisation policy.

In a nutshell, the policy in facilitating that transition needs a little more attention and to judge by how slowly the information was mustered by the UK Department of Business and Skills, not to the forefront of their priorities.
Jane Hutt of the IGTC
While the department has since responded, digging out its Trailblazer initiative as the key document (despite initially admitting there was no detailed policy in place), a spokesperson for a leading forum which caters for the power generation community says the government needs to really engage with the practicalities involved in what it means for vulnerable workers when their industry is targeted for closure.

Jane Hutt
from the International Generator Technical Community told Power Engineering International that it is important that these retraining programs and initiatives show that the government is in touch with the realities that mature workers face in the job marketplace.

“We have all heard stories of workers who entered retraining programs when they were laid off or their plants were closed and, with their training and unemployment benefits ending about the same time, found no jobs related to their retrained skills. This happens and it is important to for programs to train workers for jobs that actually exist and are viable options.”

A glaring issue, according to Hutt, and one that cuts across all sectors is how the government plans to assist seasoned power plant employees, those aged 40 and upwards who have a very defined skillset. The value of that experience often isn’t a priority for prospective employers.

“The real issue that nobody addresses directly is age discrimination. Many engineering skills are easily transferrable to another sector with a minimal amount of retraining, so no problem, right?”

Longanet coal-fired power plant
  “But age discrimination is the real issue everyone – employers, government programs, hopeful trainees — avoids acknowledging or addressing proactively.”

 “There are realities out there that anyone over 45 faces in the job marketplace. If a prospective employer has to choose between an early career person with minimum experience and a mature person expecting a wage comparable with their experience, it’s more likely the employer will choose the younger cheaper candidate with the minimum skills and experience for the job, unless the mature person is offering a very unique, high-demand skillset.”

That type of skillset is usually not the case with workers seeking jobs after mass layoffs. So the answer for these older workers is to be willing to take lower paying job?

“Maybe. What if you apply for lower wage jobs only to be told again and again that you are over-qualified? The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (March 2015 Spotlight on Statistics) says that the incidence of long-term unemployment rises with age. And this is regardless of industry sector. If the “cards” you are dealt include a lacklustre economy and a phased out industry, then age and maturity probably will not be a trump card in the job game. This issue must be addressed head-on by any retraining program. And to ensure success, it may be that employers will need additional incentives to hire mature persons, not unlike past programs that provided incentives for hiring returning war veterans.”

Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed last year that the country wanted to quit coal by 2025.

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