Prof. Dr. Frank Gielen Company strategy, Innovation, Skills, Strategy & management, Comment, Skills, Skills shortage, students

By Prof. Dr. Frank Gielen, education director at InnoEnergy

“The energy system is changing. Smart grids, distributed generation, the rise of the prosumer – you can point to any number of trends that are putting the sector in a state of flux. But while energy companies fret about tomorrow’s technology and what it means for business models, less attention has been given to the talent of tomorrow: the people who will put those technologies and strategies into practice.

So, what should energy companies be thinking about when it comes to (human) resourcing our energy future? The same tactics will not cut it in a different landscape.

In the interest of preparing our students for their nascent careers, we surveyed industry executives across Europe on their future talent challenges and approaches – from start-ups to large energy providers and consultancies. Unsurprisingly, there was a range of responses, but there were also a number of common themes that we’ll discuss over the coming weeks.

One of the major shifts energy companies are anticipating – if not already seeing – is from a pure utility operation to more of a services firm. Customer-engagement becomes more important and a broader universe of partners bring ‘softer’ commercial skills to the forefront. At the same time, new technologies and applications have encouraged a proliferation of smaller firms, where the need to run a lean operation means all employees need to bring these business skills to the table.

All of which is to say that tomorrow’s talent will need more than pure technical skill. Of course, engineering excellence is as important as it has ever been, if not more, 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 fluently with colleagues, clients and other stakeholders – often internationally – to package a commercial proposition. This places a greater emphasis on collaborative and team-working skills than ever before.

So, identifying talent with those business skills will be crucial, without compromising on technical prowess. Digital fluency will also be vital as work practices are digitised. It will be important to offer retraining and professional development programmes to teach this skillset in the existing workforce but will also fundamentally change what energy companies look for in tomorrow’s talent.

However, at the same time as industry skillsets broaden, they also narrow. As energy industry technologies become ever more varied and advanced, the level of technical specialism required of new talent rises.

It’s a tightrope: looking for talent with a broadening skillset on the one hand but increasing specialism on the other. However, there are courses that deliver in-depth knowledge of all major renewable technologies, providing students with the opportunity to specialise in areas that interest them most.

Next week, we’ll cover how reputation management and providing opportunities for employees to make an impact, quickly, will be important for attracting the energy talent of tomorrow.”

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