AnalysisHydrogen

Recruitment, a limiting factor for the hydrogen industry

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Of the 84 jobs in the industry, 17 are currently under pressure, according to the France Hydrogen Association. Three recruiters in the sector – Lhyfe, McPhy and H2V – talk about the difficulties they face and their tactics to overcome them.

Electro-mechanics, welders, mechatronics engineers, truck drivers, pipefitters: all these jobs and a dozen more are under pressure in the hydrogen industry. According to a report by France Hydrogène in April 2021, this represents 20% of the positions being recruited. For the industry association, this situation is explained by a “lack of availability of skills and associated profiles in the short term”, mainly due to “competition between several industrial sectors”. Despite the diversity of the few companies focused on the production of carbon-free hydrogen, the same difficulties are effectively encountered at all levels of the sector.

A diversity of needs, the same blockage

The jobs we are looking for are also in great demand in other industrial sectors, which are better known and established,” notes Jean-Marc Leonardht, Managing Director of the H2V company. Hydrogen production, on the other hand, is still very little known and has many unknowns. A subsidiary of Samfi Invest, a Normandy-based renewable energy investment company, H2V aims to design, build and operate massive green hydrogen production plants of at least 100 megawatts (MW) each. It is already planning to set up a site near Dunkirk by 2024, after selling its first project near Le Havre to Air Liquide.

Currently employing around 15 people, H2V hopes to recruit four more in the coming months. This is easier said than done, according to Jean-Marc Leonardht: “In three months, we have not yet been able to recruit anyone. And the few CVs I’ve had in my hands, sent by two recruitment agencies, are far from satisfactory.” The project managers and mechanical engineers that H2V’s manager is looking for are not the only ones in an apparent shortage. Professions such as electromechanics or maintenance, particularly in automation and installation control, are also highly sought after.

There is not much talent available because of the relative infancy of the hydrogen sector,” says Anne Delprat, Human Resources Director at McPhy. We have to be agile and look for profiles that already come from the industrial sector, with skills that can be transferred to hydrogen.

Based in France, Germany and Italy, McPhy is a designer, manufacturer and integrator of electrolysers and refueling stations. At the beginning of 2022, the group had 150 employees, and hopes to recruit 60 more before the end of the year. “Human capital is the main asset of our company, so HR issues are essential to enable McPhy to succeed in its transition to scale,” said Anne Delprat, referring to the major industrialization projects planned by McPhy, such as the future “gigafactory” of electrolysers that the company is preparing in Belfort.

The Breton company, Lhyfe, is also experiencing difficulties in achieving its recruitment ambitions. By the end of the year, it hopes to double its workforce to over 160 employees. Specialized in the production and transport of green hydrogen, Lhyfe is not looking for technicians, but is struggling to find candidates in automation, piloting and power electronics.

Most of the profiles we receive come from the oil and gas or offshore construction sectors, looking to find a new meaning to their activity,” says Nolwenn Belleguic, Lhyfe’s deputy general manager in charge of HR and communication. On this point, we offer a good alternative to the industrialists, but hydrogen requires a particular level of expertise, especially in terms of safety.” The famous molecule is indeed very volatile, and requires special and standardized equipment to avoid any danger.

Is training the solution?

“A 100 MW plant requires at least 35 technicians. France will have to have 65 sites, and therefore create 2,000 jobs, to reach 6.5 GW of electrolysers, its target for 2030. Clearly, we are not well on our way to achieving this goal in time,” says Jean-Marc Leonardht. The France Hydrogène association even envisages a recruitment need reaching 150,000 new positions across the value chain in less than ten years. For the director of H2V, the promising vision and initial support from the government are not enough to realize this potential: “There is a difference between an objective and the ability to achieve it.” He calls for solving the problems of administrative slowness and especially for building a training program on a national level, “why not by declaring hydrogen of major public interest”.

The lack of specialized training in the field is the common thorn in the side of recruiters in the industry. Anne Delprat, from McPhy, also notes this but invites “manufacturers to play their part” by contributing, with universities and training organizations, to “collaborate in a logic of sector to pool expertise, and develop an industrialized approach on the entire value chain.

McPhy has also opted for in-house training. With partners specialized in security, the group is working with other manufacturers to deploy a training and awareness module on security issues. To promote its recruitment offers throughout Europe, the company recently launched its own job board to “give even more visibility to our job and training paths, our CSR commitment and our global approach”.

For its part, H2V has contributed to the construction of an “H2 Academy” in the Caux Seine agglomeration, relying first of all on a BTS (vocational training certificate) given near the location of the future Air Liquide plant. It plans to do the same in other areas identified as “major industrial basins”: first in Lille, then in Fos-sur-Mer, in the Bouches-du-Rhône.

Nedim Husomanovic

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