In the Arab World, the energy industry has been a key enabler of economic growth, and a major employer for generations. Today, as more countries diversify their energy portfolios as part of the transition to cleaner energy sources, and in parallel, conserve natural resources for higher-value products, a period of major disruption lies ahead.
But with disruption, comes opportunity. For energy sector professionals, that opportunity lies in clean electricity—the energy sector’s next powerhouse. With a global mission to cut carbon emissions in the power generation sector combined with projected demand for electricity outstripping all other energy forms, the career opportunities in clean energy technologies are set for significant growth.
In its recent report, “Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector,” the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) pathway to a clean energy economy calls for a “massive expansion” of the electricity sector to two and a half times its current size in order to power global future energy needs. In this model, annual electricity generation investment increases from $500 billion over the past five years to $1.6 trillion in 2030. While five million jobs will be lost from the fossil fuels sector, more than 14 million jobs are created in clean and renewable energy. On top of this, related industries—including those specialising in efficiency, automotive, and construction activities—add a further 16 million roles.
With more than 30 million new jobs on the table by 2030, the future career opportunities for energy sector professionals are clearly in clean energy. And the sectors best positioned today to meet this clean electricity demand are renewables, nuclear energy, and clean hydrogen.
The next two to three decades will see huge expansion of clean electricity infrastructure—bringing with it secure, high-value job opportunities from construction, engineering, and environmental science, through to systems software development and cybersecurity, training and development, and a vast range of operating and technical roles. The opportunities are there, and we need talented professionals to fill them. Successfully transitioning our skilled energy employees in line with the shift to cleaner energy sources will be key to closing this skills gap.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Peaceful Nuclear Energy Program provides a modern-day case study in the clean skills transition. As a nuclear new-build nation, we had no local pool of experienced nuclear professionals from which to grow from. Initially, our small team came from a broad range of industries including the oil and gas (O&G), and utilities sectors, along with mechanical and electrical engineering professionals—myself included. Our skills were transferrable because of our experience in highly regulated industries with strong safety cultures, and our expertise in the power sector.
However, in planning this program, our intent was clear—the long-term vision was always to ensure it would ultimately be led by home-grown talent. From the beginning—12 years ago—we made knowledge transfer a strategic priority.
Our “Human Capital” strategy focused on developing our national expertise through strategic partnerships as well as extensive international collaboration throughout the global nuclear energy industry. Those professionals, alongside new graduates, were sent to renowned international universities to gain the right qualifications and expertise needed to ensure we had the right talent for construction, commissioning, and operations. In parallel, we established the entire ecosystem of training and development infrastructure here in the UAE—developing academic, technical, and vocational programs to upskill our local talent and ensure a strong future pipeline of nuclear professionals.
We now have more than 3,000 employees—a diverse mix of Emirati nuclear-trained graduates and re-skilled professionals, working alongside international experts, many of whom have worked in the nuclear industry for decades. Over the past decade, we have employed many O&G professionals, and candidates with previous energy sector experience will always be favourably regarded.
We recently celebrated the successful start-up of Unit 2 at the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant and grid connection for Unit 2. Our second team of nuclear operators at the helm at Barakah Unit 2 are a testament to what can be achieved in the clean energy transition. Indeed, as the UAE celebrated Emirati Women’s Day, an Emirati female shift manager, herself a qualified and licensed senior reactor operator, led the crew in achieving this milestone, demonstrating the benefits of this investment in our talented Emirati men and women.
As the first multi-unit operating plant in the UAE and Arab World, opportunities will only grow. So, too, will the institutional knowledge of Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp. (ENEC) as we bring the remaining units online, and utilize this knowledge and expertise in nuclear mega-project delivery, multi-unit operations, and capacity building to capitalize on further opportunities in the global clean energy sector.
There is no doubt that transitioning to a clean energy economy will be an immense challenge, and competition for jobs will be high. But transitioning energy sector professionals into clean electricity growth sectors is a win-win, helping clean energy companies to secure the high-calibre talent they need, while offering energy employees a solid career path in an industry that will help provide a cleaner future for our planet.
—Mohamed Al Hammadi is managing director and CEO of ENEC.