Training for the energy transition

Morocco aims to increase the share of renewable energy. A new institute is providing the training fpr experts.

Marie Tuil
Yana Wernicke

Five more rungs and she’ll have reached the top. Suddenly Imane Lemsafi finds herself standing at a dizzying height on a small circular platform with a gaping hole at its centre. She takes an audible gasp, peers into the dark abyss – and laughs. This is the 17-year-old’s first time up here on the training tower for wind power technology. Time for a selfie with all her work gear on: climbing harness, huge carabiners, helmet.

Institute for Vocational Training in Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency in Oujda, Morocco.
Institute for Vocational Training in Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency in Oujda, Morocco.

Lemsafi is one of the first intake of 67 trainees at the Institute for Vocational Training in Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency, set up in late 2015 in Oujda in Morocco. Having taken the step to train as a specialist in energy sources of the future, Lemsafi is also taking a giant leap forward for her own future. According to a study published by the World Bank, almost half of all young people in Morocco have neither a traineeship nor a job. 

Driving forward the shift to more sustainability

Five organisations support the institute: three state energy authorities and two industrial associations. The vocational school is also part of the German Climate Technology Initiative, which aims to drive forward the shift to more sustainable forms of energy outside Germany as well. The initiative is financed by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

The initiative supports sustainable energy companies in Morocco by providing networks and advisory services. It also promotes applied research and offers specialised training. On behalf of the two German ministries and in cooperation with the Moroccan Energy Ministry, GIZ advised on establishing the institute, supported development of specialised curricula and provided in-service teacher training and some equipment for the workshop.  

Laboratory atmosphere: in the workshop the photovoltaics class is experimenting with solar panels using lamps for sunlight.
Laboratory atmosphere: in the workshop the photovoltaics class is experimenting with solar panels using lamps for sunlight.

The tower on which Lemsafi is now standing resembles a wind turbine with the top sliced off. It is there for one purpose only: to be climbed. For on such a tiny platform, buffeted by gusting winds, the knees of even the most fearless climbers can turn to jelly. The point is to give trainees a chance to see how they feel at such heights before deciding on a career in wind energy. And it seems this young woman has no problem standing 14 metres above ground in buffeting winds. She smiles broadly on returning to earth: ‘It’s such a feeling of freedom up there,’ she says. Although she had always thought it, now she knows for sure: ‘I love adventure.’ 

More practical training

Lemsafi is one of six children; her eldest brother is studying physics. ‘Like my brother, I dabbled in physics at university for a while. But I didn’t really enjoy it. I prefer smaller classes – and uni was too theoretical for me.’ Too many students, overstretched lecturers, out-of-date teaching materials: studying is mostly theoretical in Morocco, with little if any practical training. The new institute aims to deliver the opposite. 

The campus is like a perfect microcosm: a place with uninterrupted sunshine and a constant wind, a paradise for renewable energy. Instead of drying out the sparse vegetation and lifting away the barren topsoil, sun and wind here are seen as forces for good. The three-hectare site is covered in greenery – water is not in short supply. A solar-powered pump draws water to the surface from 153 metres below ground. The succulent plants, including cacti, store it like camels. Their fleshy leaves proliferate along the paths between the cafeteria and the training workshops. 

Over half the students are women 

In the light and airy workshop, the photovoltaics class is carrying out experiments on different solar panels. The class is made up of 13 girls and two boys – although there is no quota for girls. In general, the school has slightly more girls than boys, but this particular group attracts a higher proportion of girls. They are all training to become skilled technical experts. 

Practice makes perfect – places at the Institute for Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency are very much in demand and career prospects for graduates are excellent.
Practice makes perfect – places at the Institute for Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency are very much in demand and career prospects for graduates are excellent.

The floor under their feet is yellow – for photovoltaics. Blue is for solar energy, red for wind power and green for energy efficiency. Covering an area the size of a football pitch, the workshop building is colour coded. There is also a training area for biomass. Although the laboratory for biomass in the second hall is still under construction, a curriculum and three biogas plants are already in place. The curriculum was developed by GIZ in close cooperation with experts from the Moroccan and European renewables sector – with the objective of providing exactly the workforce the country needs.  

For a long time Morocco was entirely dependent on the import of fossil fuels and is only now discovering its enormous potential in the field of renewable energy. The Government’s aim is to generate 42 per cent of the country’s energy from renewables by 2020, with 28 per cent of electricity to be produced by solar power plants and wind farms. The world’s largest solar park is currently being built with the support of the KfW Development Bank near the town of Ouarzazate. In the long term, the country even hopes to export its green power. Lemsafi is also confident about this transition to clean energy. ‘Although the concept of renewable energy is still new in Morocco, it has a very promising future. My family is very proud that I’m going to work in this area.’

Desperately seeking teachers 

In order to train enough skilled workers, two partner institutes of the vocational school are being established in Tangiers and Ouarzazate. Demand is growing, as the figures for applicants demonstrate: in summer 2015, there were barely three applicants for every training place; just a year later, 140 applicants were competing for each place. It is now generally known that the institute enjoys international backing and that its facilities are excellent. A growing number of candidates bring their application in person, hoping to increase their chances of being taken this way. But any attempt to bypass the system is doomed to failure; the selection procedure is fair and transparent. Candidates are short-listed on the basis of their school leaving grades. Then there are interviews and written tests.

Although students are now queuing to study at the new institutes, it is still very difficult to find suitable teachers. Since Moroccan university graduates generally have little practical know-how, the vocational training institute in Oujda is having to train the next generation of teachers itself. GIZ therefore regularly invites practical experts to share their knowledge, allowing teachers to acquire the pedagogical and technical skills they need.

Small class sizes and direct discussion

Advanced training is a three-stage process: once the would-be Moroccan teachers have acquired the basics, they assist their trainers in the classroom. Later they swap places, and finally the new teachers take classes alone. So far, eight teachers have been trained in Oujda. 

Small class sizes and direct contact during practical exercises make for a good teacher-pupil relationship. As Lemsafi explains: ‘We recently prepared a surprise for our class teacher’s birthday. Two other teachers helped with the planning. It was Ramadan, so we brought him a cake and sang a song during the traditional evening meal.’ 

All graduates with prospects of a job 

Good social chemistry makes for a productive learning environment. The students regularly conduct practical exercises. One group studying solar energy, for example, has the task of optimising the solar modules on the roof of the school building by the end of their first year of training. These modules provide hot water for students living on the campus. Although they function adequately, there is scope for efficiency gains. So the students are working in four groups to develop plans, the best of which will be implemented. ‘Our objective here is to train people capable of designing, building and monitoring small to medium-sized plants on their own,’ says John Fimpel of GIZ. The focus, he emphasises, is on practical application. 

One year on, July 2017, and 58 of the 67 students have successfully completed their training. Imane Lemsafi is one of them. The focus on practical work has paid off – all the graduates have a job in prospect, many of them with installation companies geared to solar energy and photovoltaics.

Contact: John Fimpel >

published in akzente 3/17



Project: German Climate Technology Initiative (DKTI I)
Country: Morocco
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety; German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development 
Lead executing agency: Moroccan Ministry for Energy, Mines and Sustainable Development 
Term: 2013 to 2018

Morocco needs experts for its transition to clean energy – so sustainable energy provision is a sector offering good career prospects. With youth unemployment running at over 20 per cent, that makes it attractive to young Moroccans. From the first intake of specialised technician students, 58 qualified young experts – over half of them women – successfully completed the training course at the IFMEREE vocational training centre in Oujda in summer 2017. Demand for training is high, with around 140 applicants for each place. Further vocational training centres have been planned in Morocco.