Skip to main content


Launching 24 in 2024 - new blog series - people at the heart of a low carbon future

Neil Cowie


Over the next six months, Colleges Scotland is marking the diversity and variety of the work that Scotland's 24 colleges do with our new blog series, 24 in 2024. Starting the series today is Neil Cowie, Principal and Chief Executive of North East Scotland College. 

Writing as we enter the final throes of election season, it has been intriguing to hear and read all that has been said and written about the future of energy on our shores. 

Net zero targets, the climate crisis as our greatest long term global challenge, the parallels between emissions reduction and economic prosperity, the existential threat to the planet and the opportunity to create a greener and fairer country. 

As a public servant, it’s important to remain apolitical. 

I don’t think I’m breaking that stance when I say all of the above, taken from across the mainstream manifestos, are laudable ambitions and important discussion points. 

There are, as you would expect, also fundamental points of difference between the parties. However, as interesting as what has been covered on the campaign trail is what hasn’t been explored in any significant depth. 

To achieve the UK’s aims of a low carbon future will require many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to be slotted together. Investment in infrastructure, research and development, a coherent strategy for energy transition … the list goes on.

The one piece that brings that picture together is all too often overlooked: people. 

A managed, sustainable and just energy transition will be driven by a workforce equipped with the skills and knowledge to embrace the huge opportunities this new chapter brings. 

North East Scotland College is an anchor institution in a region which is home to Europe’s oil and gas capital, Aberdeen. 

We are proud of our contribution in that sector, both directly and through our successful subsidiary the ASET International Energy Training Academy, and are committed to continuing to support the needs of employers.

We are also enthusiastic about our rapidly expanding role in energy transition, as a key player in the evolution of new and exciting facets. From wind and solar to hydrogen, electric vehicle and energy saving technology. 

Our track record in guiding thousands of students in engineering and related disciplines each year provides us with the foundation to build that workforce of the future. 

At NESCol’s Altens Campus, we are working in partnership with ETZ Ltd and Shell UK to create the groundbreaking Energy Transition Skills Hub. It will provide a purpose-built environment to not only deliver the skills needed here and now, but also to inspire the next generation to view the energy industry as a rewarding long-term career path. It’s important to note that a significant portion of the costs are being met by the Scottish Government’s Just Transition Fund, a welcome injection of resources. 

Collaboration in the North East has never been stronger. We work with governments, with industry, with the wider energy sector, with our university colleagues and with schools to look forward and plan for that sustainable future. 

We need political action to match the power of those partnerships. 

Taking the college sector in isolation, we are operating under tighter constraints than I have experienced in a quarter of a century working in Further Education. Flat cash funding settlements over successive years have brought real-terms cuts of around 16%. We are able to deliver to fewer students as a result.

At the same time demand is growing, not least in and around renewables and energy transition. From employers, from prospective students – even, dare I say it, from governments who are signposting the skills gaps looming large on the horizons. Tens of thousands of fabricators, of EV charge point technicians and of wind turbine specialists. 

Scotland’s First Minister has growing the economy and tackling the climate emergency among the priorities for his tenure – both will hinge on getting energy transition right. 

NESCol took the opportunity to put our concerns to the First Minister and the leaders of Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives at a debate organised by the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, focused on the future of energy. There was universal support for the college sector, without any immediate solutions to the current issues being offered. Those responses can be found at 1.30:15 in the recording of the session.

The message that came through loud and clear from the many representatives from industry and education in the room was that we have a golden chance to realise the environmental, economic and social benefits that are promised. 

To seize that opportunity there must be significant backing and conscious policy decisions which have at their heart investment in training, in education, in skills – in people. 

Words and manifesto pledges are easy, but it is deeds that will make the difference. Once the dust settles on the 2024 General Election, I look forward to working with our newly elected Westminster representatives and with their Holyrood counterparts to shift the dial on such a crucial subject and to shape the positive outcomes I have no doubt we all share. 


Members’ Area

The Members’ Area contains information for Chairs, Principals, Directors of HR, Directors of Finance, Head of Marketing/Marketing Managers and Board Secretaries. The information in these sections are intended for those issued with log-in details only, it should be treated as confidential and not for wider circulation.