THE head of ScottishPower has warned of a looming industry skills shortage and a need to attract large numbers of young engineers because thousands of workers are due to retire within the next decade.

Keith Anderson said the company is upping its graduate and apprenticeship intake during 2015 to 130, from 85 last year, as it gears up to make £1.3 billion of investment in network improvements and renewable projects in the UK this year.

In a bid to address the potential skills shortage ScottishPower is already going in to primary and secondary schools to encourage engineering as a career choice.

Mr Anderson, who also runs ScottishPower Renewables, said: "As an industry as a whole, and we are no different to the rest, if you look at the next 10 years it is about 30 to 40 per cent of engineers leaving the sector.

"One of the biggest drivers for us is how do we get young people back in to want to be part of the energy sector. We have got a huge drive on with schools, universities and colleges but also reinvigorating apprenticeship schemes."

Mr Anderson suggested a lot of work is going in to changing perceptions of how engineering is perceived.

"[The skills agenda] is hugely important. It is not to have a dig at any other sectors but generally the energy sector or engineering has become a little bit unfashionable compared to some other sectors.

"A lot of people out there think it is getting grease and oil under your hands and it is a dirty job. There is a whole education process to talk about the kind of people we need.

"Yes we need people at the end of the business climbing the poles, mending the wire and in the generation stations but we also need a huge number of highly skilled, highly qualified engineers in civil, mechanical, structural, chemical and aeronautical engineering."

A ScottishPower spokesman confirmed it is also sending young engineers into schools to explain what their jobs involve.

He said: "It has got to the point that there could be issues in the next few years if we don't start finding replacements."

The company, owned by Spanish energy group Iberdrola, also said its major new Glasgow headquarters remains on course to be completed towards the end of 2015 with the first staff set to move in during the first quarter of 2016.

Part of its renewable investment this year will see construction start on the Killgallioch onshore wind farm in Ayrshire.

A feasibility study on a large scale pump storage hydro scheme at Cruachan is still ongoing while the future of the Longannet power station has been subject to much debate recently with suggestions it could close earlier than anticipated.

Mr Anderson said: "The debate around Longannet is more about how you make sure the transition is done in a safe and secure manner."

Annual results for 2014 saw the UK generation and supply business post earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of £368.3m, up from £272.1m.

Lower coal prices helped generation from Longannet and while gas prices were also down ScottishPower said margins in its gas fired power plants were still very low.

In renewables EBITDA rose from around £170m to £195m helped by a first contribution from the West of Duddon Sands offshore wind farm.

Retail customer numbers, 2.2 million gas users and 3.5 million electricity users, were relatively steady with Mr Anderson believing new entrants to the sector have improved competition.

He said: "In terms of the customer end of the market there is a lot of competition and it is a very aggressive market.

"A few of the smaller suppliers have taken customers by being quite aggressive. We are doing well and holding our own. Our customer numbers and relatively stable and we are competing hard."

Mr Anderson said a new dual fuel tariff just launched by ScottishPower was 13 per cent cheaper than one year ago which proved "competition is working and pushing companies like us and putting prices down".

Iberdrola's EBITDA was up 3.1 per cent to almost €7 billion, compared to €6.76bn.

Net profit was down 9.5 per cent from €2.57bn to €2.32bn.

Iberdrola said it had been affected by regulatory changes in Spain but performance from its generation businesses, including in the UK, had been good.