Capacity-building is at the heart of any development initiative. In order to adapt to an ever-changing world, a nation (and a region) must develop and strengthen the skills of its people as well as the processes and resources of its organisations and communities. For this reason, capacity-building is a crucial pillar of TAPSEC’s mission to support the Caribbean region’s journey towards a sustainable future.

Leading the way in this arena is Dr. Niebert Blair, TAPSEC Capacity Building Advisor, with responsibility for supporting the regional and international exchange of innovative technological solutions, financing models and regulatory mechanisms relating to the Renewable Energy (RE) and Energy Efficiency (EE) sectors. With a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Canterbury, NZ and an MPhil in Industrial Systems Manufacture and Management from the University of Cambridge, UK, Dr. Blair leverages her considerable experience in the power utility and manufacturing fields to guide TAPSEC’s partnership with local and regional education organisations. They work together to restructure the existing information pathways to provide students, professionals and RE and EE practitioners with the skills and experience they need to create the kinds of technical solutions that will drive meaningful change throughout the region.

Dr. Blair takes a holistic, big-picture approach to capacity development, targeting people who are already working in the relevant sectors as well as students on the verge of entering the field and younger students who are still charting their educational paths. These efforts begin at the secondary school level, where she has worked extensively with the Caribbean Examinations Council to develop a number of courses designed to help students better understand energy systems and their importance to regional development.

At the university level of capacity development, TAPSEC funds the Regional University Network (RUN), a consortium of regional universities working together to carry out research on emerging technologies and develop courses relevant to sustainable energy. These include the University of the West Indies, the University of Suriname, the University of Guyana, the University of the Bahamas, the University of Belize, the University of Haiti and the University of Trinidad and Tobago. Hosted by the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE), RUN also includes monthly seminars in which academics from the participating universities present to each other and industry personnel.

A Green Career Fair Day is also in the works, with the aim of giving students a peek at the kinds of roles that are required for the sustainable development transition. These roles range from the expected fields of science and engineering to unexpected ones like sustainable agriculture and construction, civil society engagement, storytelling, psychology and sociology. Inclusion of the latter sectors is based on the understanding that a paradigm shift requires not just technology, but also the ability to guide people as they make the necessary changes and adopt the necessary lifestyles. The hope, says Dr. Blair, is that students will be able to see themselves fitting into these new emerging opportunities and structure their studies towards fulfilling those needs. This is a perspective based on lived experience, given that — while she did not start her career expecting to be a leader in capacity development -Dr. Blair has found herself doing it inadvertently as she worked towards creating meaningful change within the sector.

Another initiative that is particularly special to her is the Regional Energy Apprenticeship Programme (REAP). Conceptualised by the CARICOM Energy Unit and executed by TAPSEC in partnership with a number of regional organisations, the REAP programme provided young professionals fresh out of university with opportunities to gain technical expertise in various areas of the sustainable energy sector. Dr. Blair was instrumental in adding truly interactive elements to the programme, making it an even more impactful experience for the participants. The REAP cohort became part of a network as they worked closely with their mentors in organisations like the CARICOM Development Fund (CDF), the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and CCREEE, learning what they needed to know to chart their careers.

For those already in the energy field, Dr. Blair spearheaded the design of the Low Emissions Analysis Platform (LEAP) training series: another collaboration with CCREEE geared toward building capacity in the use of the LEAP software, a necessary tool for developing the Caribbean Sustainable Energy Roadmap and Strategy (C-SERMS). The three-phase training series catered to 140 professionals from various parts of the regional energy industry, including utilities, regulators, universities and ministries. On top of learning how to input and analyse data, those who completed the third and most advanced phase emerged with an understanding of how the software works, giving them the expertise necessary to adjust it to suit the needs of their individual energy sectors. Going forward, engineering students in their final year are encouraged to enter training so they can enter their careers knowing how to use this critical software.

More broadly speaking, TAPSEC has supported CCREEE in the creation of the CARICOM Energy Knowledge Hub (CEKH). This groundbreaking information and knowledge management framework provides a wealth of energy-related resources to everyone from governments and utilities to universities, students and the general public. With provision of reliable high-quality information, the CEKH is bridging the data and information gaps that can impede sound energy planning and decision-making, thereby enhancing regional development efforts.

Stepping back to take in the full view of things, the foundational aim of TAPSEC’s Capacity Development slate under Dr. Blair becomes quite clear: the creation of an end-to-end pipeline enabling future change-makers to go straight from school into their chosen field of Renewable Energy and the provision of avenues for existing energy professionals to access the information and training necessary to help guide CARICOM to its sustainable development goals. Her commitment to creating this pipeline has not been hampered by the pandemic. If anything, it has encouraged even more innovation in the form of the increased digital literacy inspired by virtual training sessions and conferences. With so much happening online (and subsequently being posted to YouTube), the shift to digital learning has resulted in expanded opportunities for those whose access might previously have been limited by geography.

Given all of this, it’s fair to say that CARICOM’s energy future is looking bright.