Glass globes are getting fuzzier, as the past corona year has proven. Still, there are certainties. The energy transition continues at an ever-accelerating pace, no doubt about it. And another one: data and its processing continue to gain importance. Just as certain, therefore, is that we must quickly train people who know how to handle it.
But how do you do that in the best way? Well, by getting educational institutions and industry to join hands, along with the government. That ensures speed and support. And most importantly, that way you can be sure that the pupils and students learn what the market demands.
Recently, everyone in the Northern Netherlands may also call themselves residents of the Hydrogen Valley. This is where everything in the field of hydrogen comes together. The supply of sustainable energy, customers in industry, mobility and the built environment, a motivated public administration as well as hydrogen technology companies. And then there is the production of hydrogen and the infrastructure that is ready.
These seem to be the ingredients for a glorious future. But: then we must have enough people who know how to bake a beautiful cake from those ingredients. Technical staff, in other words. And finding enough of those has long been a problem. 'The shortage is already there, and the energy transition will make the demand for technically trained people even greater,' says Arjan Sixma. He is director of services and projects at Engie Services Noord.
Think about installing heat pumps, installing solar panels and boilers, working on hydrogen technology and much more. There are hardly any training courses in this, while the specialists are badly needed, increasingly. Reason enough for ENGIE, Gasunie, Strukton, Enexis, Bouwend Nederland and Techniek Nederland to work with the Alfa College to set up a new MBO course: Commercial Energy Technician (CET). The first students started recently.
Sixma: 'We will desperately need those graduates soon, but many more companies will benefit. Engie and Strukton - as big boys - also see it as their responsibility to take up this issue. The students are learning a trade that will give them a bright future. The companies are helped by the influx of technical talent; the training will soon produce people who have a mega chance of a good career.'
The development of the CET course fits perfectly into the Gas 2.0 program, a four-year grant program involving seven educational institutions, 55 companies, four municipalities and the three northern provinces. The goal: to develop future-proof energy education for the Northern Netherlands energy sector through public-private cooperation.
'Cooperation between education and business is essential in this,' says Anja Hulshof of New Energy Coalition, the program's catalyst. 'Within Gas 2.0 we are developing education on themes such as hydrogen, energy conservation and sustainability for MBO students. In doing so, we are working closely with the business community and institutes of higher professional education to ensure the best possible connection with practice and further education. Because we need an incredible number of professionals for the technical realization of the energy issue.
The companies are helped by the influx of technical talent; the training will soon deliver people who have a mega opportunity for a great career.
Arjan Sixma, director services and projects Engie Services Noord
Another great example of cooperation between education and business can be found in and around Hoogeveen. There is a group of companies located there that does a lot in the field of IT, companies that have a lot of data and want to use it for innovation. TVM and Unigarant are two of those companies.
They are working with Fokker on a new community, together with Stenden University of Applied Sciences, Hanzehogeschool, Alfa College and Drenthe College. The place where education and business should come together is part of the IT hub that is being developed in that part of Drenthe. The province has backed the initiative, as has the municipality of Hoogeveen.
Djurre Dinkla (Front Five) is quartermaster. 'We are working hard to make it happen. It is clear that the need for well-trained people from the business community is great. The focus is on supporting the digital transition of companies, setting up IT innovation labs and training students and employees of companies.'
One of those companies is insurer Unigarant. On behalf of the company, IT manager Peter Leever is at the table. 'The digital transformation is a task of stature. We are already in the middle of it, but there is much more to come. It is already difficult enough to find good people who can contribute to this. That challenge is getting bigger and bigger.'
It is therefore logical that Unigarant is thinking along and participating in the training, which is still under development. Leever: "We may not be known as an IT region in this region, but there is more happening here than many people think. At Unigarant, for example, with 600 colleagues we also do all the data work for ANWB, the parent company. Then you are talking about large data sets, which are getting bigger and bigger. The ANWB Safe Driving Car Insurance gives you a discount based on your driving score, which we determine on the basis of driving data. We also use the data we collect to detect unsafe traffic situations. Smart data scientists who can help us with this are therefore very welcome.
The IT hub means more than just an affiliated education. It has to exude something hip, something cool. We want to gather and facilitate startups, perhaps even set up a data lab to explore, together with schools and other companies, what else we can do with data and algorithms. It has to be an intimate collaboration that puts this region on the map.
The covenant has just been signed, money has been set aside. In the coming months, all plans must come to fruition and become reality.