Charles Thompson, ORE Catapult’s Director of Corporate Affairs, at Levenmouth.

Building aspirations through mentorship

Published 6 October 2023

This blog was written by ORE Catapult’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Charles Thompson.

As we progress towards a net zero economy aligned to a just energy transition, one of the major challenges that the renewables sector faces is a potential skills shortage. Demand for a skilled workforce in offshore renewables has grown exponentially over the past decade and will continue to grow as we push towards Net Zero.

There is huge opportunity for transfer and adaptation of capabilities from fossil fuel industries but, with an eye to the longer term, investing in the next generation, particularly those pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects, has never been more crucial to ensuring future growth and delivery on environmental commitments.

We know that green jobs are appealing to today’s younger generations: figures from March of this year show that almost 22,000 students in Scotland are taking courses relating to renewable energy – up more than 70% since 2019 (source: Scottish Renewables). But that’s only half the battle; bolstering the workforce requires these students to complete their studies, enter the industry and work towards the common goal of decarbonisation. That takes ambition, passion, and inspiration.

Many businesses across industry are doing excellent work in support of STEM education, and organisations such as the Offshore Wind Energy Council (OWIC), Renewable UK, Scottish Renewables and, my own organisation, the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, provide strong leadership in signposting requirements and opportunities.

As a world-leading organisation with engineering, innovation and technology at its heart, ORE Catapult is passionate about STEM and engagement within our local communities to deliver inspiring, meaningful, and impactful social benefit.

In Fife, we have a long-standing partnership with Levenmouth Academy, close to our Levenmouth Demonstration Turbine (LDT), the world’s most advanced open-access offshore wind turbine for research. Through the partnership, we support extensive extra-curricular STEM activities and have invested in new VR kit to enhance teaching resources.

This can inspire and engage, but there is another element that is just as important in ensuring that young talent and ambition can ultimately progress to a fulfilling career meeting the requirements of our new energy future. Mentoring – providing supportive advice beyond academic studies on progressing towards a positive and fulfilling career – is proven to be a gamechanger when it comes to young adults reaching their goals.

In a previous role I worked in the Clyde shipyards, where BAE Systems ran one of the largest and most successful private sector apprenticeship programmes in Scotland. The scheme saw a retention rate and progression to qualified employees well in excess of 90%, with the strong mentoring scheme provided to every apprentice identified as one of the key defining factors.

In 2020, ORE Catapult created the Aspire Bursary, providing an outstanding student from Levenmouth Academy with financial assistance and guidance from a mentor from our own team of young engineers, to support them studying STEM-related subjects at University.

Throughout their time at university, they are provided with support from an ORE Catapult mentor, someone who has ‘been-there, done-that’, able to offer advice, encouragement, support and a bit of perspective during the transition from higher education to the future world of work. Young people experience a myriad of obstacles whilst navigating the transition from school to university and ultimately to the workplace, many of which they’ll have never encountered before. Whilst each person’s path is unique, having someone to rely on who’s been through similar experiences can be absolutely invaluable.

The mentoring enables the students to build a relationship with someone who’s been through university and works in industry, someone who can give them insights into career paths and resources and perhaps help them to develop the critical ‘soft skills’ so important to the workplace.

One of our current Aspire students, currently studying Structural Engineering at Heriot Watt in Edinburgh, commented to us, “The advice that my mentor has given me has been invaluable. I find that I get myself quite worked up when I have exams and deadlines, but she is great at giving me little tips and tricks that help during stressful times like that.”

Throughout university and the transition to the workplace, many young people will be experiencing responsibility, expectation, time-management, and organisation in a much more intensive manner than they did throughout their time at school. This can lead to feelings of helplessness, high stress, low confidence and anxiety, as individuals adjust to change differently and at different rates.

Another of the Aspire students recently completed a summer internship in ORE Catapult’s engineering team. She observed, “They always encouraged me to keep improving professionally and personally, helping me to build a CV, LinkedIn and lots of confidence. They encouraged me to get a part-time job and improve my work-life balance.”

The benefits of the mentoring programme also work two-ways. By providing support, young engineers seeking certification within their own early careers gain both leadership experience and evidence of additional activities to their core work. One of our mentors said, “I know how valuable having a mentor myself has been through university and my career, and I’m proud to be able to carry that forward by offering the same support.”

Mentoring can be intensive, demanding a strong commitment on both sides. But it is invaluable and rewarding and can play a vital role in delivering the innovators, the engineers and the leaders of tomorrow’s industries.