The energy system is changing. The rise of the prosumer, energy as a service, business models, and customisation as a result of digitalisation – you can point to any number of human-centric trends that are putting the sector in a state of flux. A greater focus on talent and the human elements of the energy transition have steadily grown more important, so, what trends should companies be thinking about when it comes to our energy future?
Skills: broader and narrower
One of the defining shifts of the energy transition is a move away from the incumbent, centralised model – rather than a handful of large energy companies, entrepreneurial ventures are springing up left, right and centre. Most of these smaller firms need to run a lean operation which means employees need to bring a range of business skills to the table, including those “softer” commercial skills.
Of course, engineering excellence is as important as ever, but to stay competitive the sector needs people with more strings to their bows. Yes, you need the expert in designing and building solar arrays, but they also need to work fluidly with colleagues, clients, external partners and other stakeholders – often internationally – to package a commercial proposition. This places a greater emphasis on collaboration and team-working skills than ever before.
At the same time, as industry skillsets broaden, they also narrow. As energy industry technologies become ever more varied and ever more advanced, the level of technical specialism required of new talent rises. Start-ups are especially mindful of this.
It’s a tightrope: looking for talent with a broadening skillset on the one hand but increasing specialism on the other. Both employers and employees need to be wary of over-specialism in areas that may not develop as expected, blocking career progression and damaging commercial prospects. The most sought-after talent will exhibit a rare mix of specialism and adaptability.
An international mindset
Europe is a fantastic place for energy companies to do business. European economies have shown global leadership on energy and environmental issues, and initiatives like the Energy Union bring countries closer together. However, a host of barriers remain: languages, local regulations, business practices, equipment specifications – there is still a lot of divergence out there.
As the energy sector becomes more connected and collaborative internationally, companies will need to reflect that in the way they operate. This means obvious considerations like language skills, but also looking for new talent that has knowledge of different international policies and regulations.
Fortunately, this need converges with another trend in the next generation workforce: international career aspirations. Just as more millennials want careers that include various different roles in different companies, more are looking for careers that include stints in different countries. By harnessing that desire, energy companies can help themselves cope with this particular transition.
Citizens and society
Whether you want to call them millennials or Generation Y, the new generation of talent sees the world differently to their predecessors. One key difference is that they are far more likely to seek options that have a social impact and make a positive difference to the world.
And of course, energy companies do. Energy keeps schools and hospitals open and allows society to thrive. But the other key consideration is environmentalism. If a company has been providing that vital energy by burning coal for 40 years with no exit plan, it will likely be a turn-off for younger employees.
Energy companies need to do two things: focus on adding social value to society and having strong environmental credentials. If a company lacks either, then it may find attracting younger generations one of many challenges they face in tomorrow’s energy landscape.
Great talent brings creativity and drives innovation. But it goes the other way too. The best talent wants to work for visionary companies – it can be a virtuous or vicious circle depending on whether companies get it right.
There are many ways to innovate – and to show it – but creating or acquiring specific innovation divisions or entities is increasingly common. In many ways this mirrors moves made by some banks, which have opened fintech accelerators that are wholly owned but separately run, avoiding the traditional, slow-moving corporate structure and potentially moving out of the shadow of a parent brand that is perceived as old-fashioned.
Start-ups are often perceived as innovative by default, but this is one way larger energy companies can look to bolster their reputation and performance regarding innovation.
Preparing for tomorrow
To be prepared for these workforce trends and challenges, companies need to start thinking about them now. In many cases, this extends beyond operations to top-level questions about the company: how can we innovate, what is our environmental impact?
These are just some of the questions we need to ask ourselves to create a more human-centric approach to the energy transition.