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Closing the hydrogen skills gap

In 2016, South Africa signed the Paris agreement on climate change at the United Nations in New York. Yershen Pillay, CEO of CHIETA wrote the following article on the skills now required. This is Part 2 of a two-part article.

…continued from part one.

Hydrogen. Image by <a href="">Freepik</a>

In attempting to close the hydrogen skills and training gaps in South Africa, research by the Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (CHIETA) has identified seventeen specific training and skills requirements. Approximately 14 000 jobs are likely to be created including hydrogen systems engineers, technicians, gas fitters, and other associated trades and services.

The technical and regulatory uncertainties in South Africa provide a major challenge for effective skills planning. For this reason, leadership needs to be provided for enabling policy and regulatory changes. The education sector needs to work more closely with industry for joint skills planning and the co-creation of future training courses and learning materials. What is needed is more cross-sector collaboration and research development by engaging with industries such as transport, mining, manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, and agriculture.

South Africa lacks the cross-sector collaboration to support skills development and training on green hydrogen. Cross-sector collaboration and joint skills planning between government, the private sector and training authorities should be an apex priority for a hydrogen-ready workforce. Without cross-sector collaboration, a fragmented and piecemeal training landscape may evolve in which hydrogen training is expensive, exclusive, and inaccessible to all.

Digital skills are the foundation for hydrogen skills. For this reason, South Africa needs to prioritise digital literacy skills programmes. A coherent digital literacy skills curriculum is required for hydrogen education. To this end, CHIETA has prioritised digital literacy skills by launching SMART Skills Centres across the country. CHIETA SMART Skills Centres provide free digital literacy skills programmes including experiential learning using virtual reality technology for certain occupations. This first-of-its-kind SMART centre in Saldanha Bay has been open to the public since 1 February this year. Eight new centres are planned over the next two years.

The biggest risk facing South Africa is the inability to seize the moment and implement green hydrogen at scale because of the lack of adequate skills and appropriate expertise. To mitigate this risk and close the hydrogen skills gap in South Africa requires a multipronged strategy that includes better coordination from government, cross-sector collaboration with industry, digital literacy programmes, and specialised training on electrolysers, fuel cells, and hydrogen systems. The relevant expertise will have to be sourced to develop and deliver the training required by the industry. The country needs an explosion of training to become a leader in the global hydrogen economy.