Transitioning energy sector talent for a carbon-free future

Ed McEwan | 4 June 2024

The energy sector is undergoing a monumental transformation as it rapidly transitions from fossil fuels to renewable sources. Global investment in renewable energy has soared to half a trillion dollars a year, with leading industry players like BP and Shell committing to net zero by 2050​​. 

Ed McEwan explains how this colossal shift is profoundly impacting talent requirements and workforce structures, placing an unprecedented pressure on reskilling and talent acquisition strategies to meet the demands of a decarbonised future.   


A transitioning industry

Across the globe, energy corporations are radically restructuring their operations to ensure they remain relevant in a fossil fuel free world.

Companies are establishing dedicated divisions for renewable energies or rebranding to reflect their commitment to sustainability and enhance shareholder value. New strategic partnerships are emerging, meanwhile, to facilitate risk-sharing and leveraging local expertise in innovative new green energy projects.

Combined with an existing challenge of an ageing workforce, it’s clear the sector faces a major challenge to not only retain and upskill current employees but also attract a new generation with diverse backgrounds and expectations.

Indeed, the National Grid estimates that 400,000 new roles in the UK alone will be required by 2050 to build a workforce fit for meeting net zero targets.


Leading a brave new world

Unsurprisingly, new business-critical positions and functions are emerging with the shift to green energy, reflecting the necessity for a robust transformation office and strategic positions such as Head of Sustainability and Chief Transformation Officers.

Desired leadership styles are also evolving towards those capable of negotiating both traditional energy operations and the burgeoning renewable sector.

This dual focus requires leaders who can maintain operational excellence while driving innovation and collaboration in low-carbon and green technologies.

In addition, the significance of middle management is becoming more pronounced. These managers are vital in ‘sense-making’ – converting strategic board visions for tomorrow into understandable and actionable action plans for today.


Understanding talent requirements

Consequently, companies rapidly need to be able to identify skill gaps and understand reskilling needs to make their net zero goals a reality. In particular, human capital strategies require a dual focus: ensuring the efficient running of present operations (“keeping the lights on”), while preparing for future demands by fostering forward-looking skills.

This begins with a framework that establishes a clear understanding of the non-negotiable qualities required for now and tomorrow – such as effective collaboration, team development, self-improvement, and inspirational communication.

This provides a baseline for assessing current individual capabilities against the needs of current and future roles and objectives. This capability assessment should extend to examining the collective performance of the leadership function.

Once these gaps are identified, companies can put a plan in place for closing them, which may involve comprehensive leadership development, targeted training for specific groups, or external hiring to bring in the necessary skills.


Securing the right talent

It’s likely that most energy companies will conclude that they need to diversify their talent pool by recruiting experienced professionals from green technology sectors and/or other fields such as tech.

However, these sectors can often carry a different culture and ethos, posing a unique potential challenge in attracting talent that may be hesitant to move to energy companies traditionally associated with fossil fuels.

It’s therefore important not to overlook or dismiss the significant potential already within organisations, rather than immediately looking to external options to fill technical skills gaps.

In many cases, the optimum solution may be to identify and develop current employees who possess latent capabilities suitable for emerging green roles and support them to transition into those positions.


Evaluating success

Of course, a successful transition isn’t just about the initial identification and placement of talent in new roles, it also relies on continuous monitoring and development of these employees’ skills and capabilities.

This should involve regular review cycles (every six months or annually) to assess individual progress. The process should also involve what is known as both ‘leading’ and ‘lagging’ metrics.

Put simply, leading metrics (such as growth potential and skills development) provide immediate feedback on an employee’s adaptation to new roles and responsibilities. Lagging metrics, meanwhile, assess the long-term impact of these transitions on overall business performance and outcomes.


A sustainable future

As the energy sector continues its journey to a more sustainable future, companies must remain adaptable and proactive.

The strategic reshaping of human capital requirements and the ongoing development of people is central to ensuring that the industry not only meets current challenges but is also prepared for the future demands of a green economy.


Need to find out how your workforce is going to adapt to the future? Request a call.


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