14 December 2023
by Claire Spooner

A battery of skills - tooling up the workforce for electrification

Claire Spooner, Deputy Director of the UK’s Faraday Battery Challenge, explores a key battleground in the race to electrification – skills.

© Claire Spooner

What do hairdressers have to do with battery manufacturing? Or for that matter, bakers?

Traditional energy sources are being replaced by cleaner alternatives, and the rise in battery-powered electric vehicles, renewable energy systems and smart grids are reshaping our energy needs. Consequently, the workforce must be equipped with a diverse and dynamic skillset and be able to adapt to the latest technological advancements across all areas of electrification. We will need engineers, mechanics, technicians, data specialists and researchers.

To ensure a workforce ready to support these transitions, we need a step-change and a new approach to skills development and education to deliver decarbonisation of energy.

In the case of hairdressers, it turns out they make great battery manufacturing technicians. They have key transferable skills – they know how to mix chemical reactions from experience with hair dyes, they understand that once a material is added to the mix it cannot come out, and they know how to spread chemicals thinly on aluminium films, aware that the depth of the mixture will impact the chemical reactions. Hairdressers intuitively understand a battery manufacturing process – they just don’t know it yet.

Scale and speed

Skills are the key battleground and the key differential for countries racing to deliver net-zero. But the 2050 deadlines are not when we require these skills, we need to ramp up now to support the new and emerging electrification needs.

According to the Faraday Institution’s latest report on UK Electrical Vehicle and Battery Production Potential to 2040, by 2030  'around 100GWh of supply will be needed in the UK to satisfy the demand for batteries for private cars, commercial vehicles, heavy goods vehicles, buses, micromobility and grid storage'. The gigafactories popping up to meet these needs will require highly skilled employees.

The UK’s National Grid has calculated that 400,000 new recruits are required by the energy sector to meet the transition by 2050, with 117,000 skilled recruits required by 2030. The scale and speed for recruitment to this sector is enormous.

However, the opportunities that the energy transition will provide are currently not visible to the wider workforce, with many students embarking on educational paths without a clear understanding of the skills that will be in high demand in the near future. The perceived stability of existing industries and professions can inadvertently steer students away from disciplines that will be instrumental in our electrified future.

Timing is also a crucial factor to enable this transition. As a sector we should have been intervening in STEM activities yesterday to encourage the uptake of relevant studies linked to our electrification needs, but it is never too late for us to start.

Students starting their GCSEs now will be undertaking apprenticeships in 2027, qualifying from undergraduate courses around 2030, or completing postgraduate degrees from 2034. The time is now to promote the new job roles and opportunities in electrification, to ensure an effective workforce emerges when required.

The UK’s transition to electrification involves many technologies, such as batteries, power electronics, machines and drives, hydrogen fuel cells, materials extraction, materials processing, end-of-life and recycling technologies, digitalisation, automation, and many others. The UK must develop and manufacture these technologies so that it can capitalise and prosper from this transition. New skills are required at all scales to ensure continued development of the sector.

A kingdom for a workforce

The impending energy transition demands action, not only from future job seekers but also from the current workforce. Waiting for new entrants to enter the job market with the required skillset is a luxury we can no longer afford. To bridge the skills gap, a concerted effort must be made to reskill and upskill existing roles, enabling them to seamlessly transition into high-quality, future-oriented roles. This is where the hairdressers and bakers who have transferable skillsets can come into play, as the sector needs to diversify who we appeal to and broaden our horizons as to what skills are relevant in the field of electrification.

Understanding how we will deliver this workforce is crucial to ensure economic prosperity. This is a massive challenge in providing new skills, upskilling and reskilling a workforce. At the forefront of this battle is the Faraday Battery Challenge (FBC).

With a clear understanding of the pivotal role energy storage technologies play in the transition, the Challenge has set its sights on not only developing cutting-edge battery technologies but also nurturing the human capital required to bring these innovations to fruition.

By fostering collaboration between academia, industry and research institutions, the FBC is creating a robust ecosystem that nurtures talent, drives innovation and accelerates the deployment of energy storage solutions. This approach not only propels the energy transition forward but also creates a myriad of high-quality job opportunities.

Happily, the FBC has recently supported several skills interventions. The National Electrification Skills Forum and Framework (NESFF) will support the UK’s manufacturing competitive advantage in electrification by ensuring that the right skills are identifiable and accessible across sectors and nations.

The NESFF consortium, led by Coventry University, will help support employers and skills training providers through the identification of current and future skills needs at a local and national level. Through collaboration, the consortium will focus on linking the demands of employers to the availability and relevance of training provision to support the UK’s workforce of the future.

Another key intervention from the FBC is the provision for regional battery training centres, with one based in the Midlands and one in the North East. The Battery Workforce Training Initiative is led by Newcastle University. It will focus on vocational or technical skills development needed to ensure a proficient battery manufacturing workforce to support the UK’s growing regional battery industries.

The Digital Enhanced Battery Ubiquitous Training-West Midlands project will bring together academic, industry and government experts to deliver their programme via a blend of traditional physical training alongside advanced immersive digital technologies, such as augmented, virtual and mixed reality. Led by a team at University College Birmingham, this investment will ensure the UK keeps its edge as new technologies skills gaps are identified.

These initiatives are also seeking to actively catalyse further investment into the development of regional workforces and, as a nation, ensure that the UK has the mix of skills, talent, diversity and experience required to compete on the global stage.

The UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC) is also contributing to this space, by enabling external employees to come into the facility and work on a gigascale manufacturing line to learn first-hand from their team of battery specialists. The inbuilt flexibility of the UKBIC facility means you can temporarily integrate processes and equipment unique to new battery products, developing skills that can be returned to different parts of the sector.

UKBIC offers training for operators from levels one to four and can deliver training on everything from electrode manufacture, cell assembly, and module and pack development.

The Faraday Institution (FI) is also building the talent pool at many levels. It provides a high-quality internship programme that has seen over 200 undergraduates participate, and offers a bespoke training programme for PhDs students to equip them for future careers in academia, industry or policy making. It also provides a range of continuing professional development opportunities for early career-scientists and engineers as they build their researcher identity and forge their career pathways.

The FI has engaged over 12,000 young people through its Faraday Fully Charged Battery box. A wealth of other creative, high-quality, battery STEM resources have been designed by its researchers, interns and other groups to support outreach activities. The FI has been crucial in creating much-needed excitement and momentum for battery research.

And another UK Research and Innovation investment is providing support through the Electric Revolution Skills Hub, which is providing electrified skills for the power, electronics, motors and drive (PEMD) community. It looks to support skill-seekers, job seekers, training and education providers, and employers to accelerate and enable the success of UK electrification by supporting careers and skills development. It provides inclusive access to training, development and highlights jobs across the nation. The Hub aims to support and empower the sectors and supply chains of UK PEMD.

Tick tock…

These are great interventions that will start to tip the scales, but the scale of these interventions are not enough to deliver net-zero yet. To meet this pressing challenge, individuals, industries and governments must collaborate with a determination to equip the workforce with the skills required to navigate the complexities 
of the evolving energy landscape.

The FBC provides a promising template for such endeavours, but further support and sustained efforts are imperative as the scope of the energy transition requires a broader and more sustained commitment to skills development. As the urgency of the 2030 deadline intensifies, additional support is required to ensure that no one is left behind.

Going forward it is not merely technological advancements that will pave the way for a sustainable future – it is the collective proficiency and adaptability of the UK workforce that will define our success. By embracing a proactive approach to skills development, we can ensure that the energy transition is not just a lofty aspiration but a tangible reality driven by the capable hands and agile minds of a workforce prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

The Faraday Battery Challenge is a £610mln UK Research and Innovation Challenge Fund investment, delivering a mission-led, research and innovation programme that covers ‘lab to factory’ development, cutting-edge research and national scale-up infrastructure. The FBC seeks to address market failures in road transport decarbonisation and to attract investors to the UK’s battery industry. By leveraging scientific strength, with our delivery partners the Faraday Institution and the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, we are building an ecosystem that supports industry growth and ensures UK prosperity. 


Claire Spooner

Deputy Director, UK’s Faraday Battery Challenge