The Hydrogen Economy will see no growth in South Africa without adequate investment into new skills

By Yershen Pillay, CEO, CHIETA

The Hydrogen Economy will see no growth in South Africa without adequate investment into new skills
Yershen Pillay, CEO, CHIETA

There is ongoing excitement in South Africa about the prospect of the Hydrogen Economy – we are one of just two African countries gearing up for it. The ability to turn chemical energy into electrical energy without emitting greenhouse gasses is certainly something to be celebrated and invested in. At the same time, with the global hydrogen market expected to record a value of US$184.10 billion in 2025, the economic opportunities open to the wider hydrogen value chain are a good news story amidst the narrative of South Africa’s poor economic outlook. However, most important for unlocking the hydrogen economy will be our ability to foster the new skills required by this sector. 

If we are to enjoy the jobs created by the hydrogen economy, it is vital to have an appropriately skilled workforce to fulfil these new roles – many of which we are probably yet to imagine. Along with the diversified business growth we are hoping to see, we will need new talent and new skills to match. 

I predict that these skills required will range from hard and soft skills, from technical skills to management skills. We will require a new breed of installers, electricians, chemical and electrical engineers, plant managers and materials handlers – all equipped with up-to-date knowledge and understanding of hydrogen and hydrogen-related products. From high-school graduates to post-Doctoral candidates, the Hydrogen economy will provide something for everyone. 

New job titles which demonstrate this need for wide ranging skills include, amongst others: 

  • • Fuel cell fabrication and testing technician 
  • • Hydrogen energy systems designer 
  • • Hydrogen pipeline construction worker 
  • • Hydrogen systems safety investigator 
  • • Senior automotive fuel cell power electronics engineer 
  • • Emissions reduction project manager 


  • • Hydrogen systems sales consultant 

These are just a few examples taken from a report in the Renewable Energy and Environmental Sustainability journal, but it demonstrates that many of these jobs require different skills and education than current jobs. 

I believe that is our responsibility as CHEITA to assess training requirements so that the demand from this rapidly growing part of the economy is sufficiently met. As hydrogen is cross-sectoral, we look forward to partnering with other SETAs in energy and manufacturing, as well as our industry partners and stakeholders, to be proactive in identifying and fulfilling the skills gap. 

But where do we start? With the cross-cutting nature of the Hydrogen Economy, there are many areas requiring our attention. However, my suggestion is that our first step must focus on preparing the next generation of graduates for these roles. We can do this by partnering with industry stakeholders as well as research teams, and encouraging knowledge sharing amongst industry and academia. The Hydrogen Economy is within our reach, but we will need collaboration across large corporates, tertiary education institutes, and training authorities to make it happen. 

About Yershen Pillay 

Yershen Pillay is the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Chemical Industries Education & Training Authority (CHIETA), a statutory body which facilitates skills development in the South African chemical industries sector. Pillay completed his Bachelor of Social Science (B.Soc.Sc.) in Political Science and Economics. He then went on to complete a Postgraduate Diploma (PG Dip) in Business Administration and Management at the Gordon Institute of Business Science and in 2020, he completed his Master’s in Business Administration (MBA). 

Pillay has held various prominent positions throughout his career, including being Deputy Executive Chairperson and then the Executive Chairperson for the National Youth Development Agency and 3 

being the president of the Pan African Youth Union. He has also served as board member for various organisations. He currently serves as board member for the South African Forestry Company (SAFCOL) and Airports Company South Africa (ACSA). 

From April to November 2020, Pillay was the Director of Stakeholder Management for the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). This position lead organically into his appointment as CEO of CHIETA.