The search for skills to support the energy transition
December 2, 2020

The worldwide hiatus in energy recruitment at the outset of the pandemic was followed by an accelerated hunt for talent.

A number of factors are driving the search for skills in the energy sector and is important to understand these to ensure the best outcomes when recruiting, retaining and developing top teams, and why this situation is unlikely to abate in the short term.

A transitionary economy where fossil fuels are ceding ground to low carbon and no carbon alternatives is a world where all three fuel sources co-exist. As a result, there is high competition for talent as companies look to pivot and re-position for the energy transition while also maintaining existing lines of operation.

Organisations looking to innovate, exploit marginal opportunities, drive efficiencies and increase optimisation are targeting many of the same commercial, technical and data skillsets.

While the pandemic-stricken world has seen dramatic fluctuations in energy demand during the past few months, it also continues to be energy hungry. However, as economies emerge from the pandemic at different rates, energy use has shifted. There is an evolution in medium and long-term demand and energy consumption, and countries globally now aspire to a greener recovery.

There are new emerging patterns of energy use as a result of changing attitudes to consumerism, travel and where people work. This creates new opportunities for energy businesses to innovate, find their agility and respond to new patterns of demand – skills that require the right people in the right jobs.

The energy transition and decarbonisation is leading to increased demand for knowledge and expertise to drive innovation, with government stimulus, stakeholder and investor support for businesses to deliver greener, cleaner products – and not just in the energy sector. This sees companies across sectors globally competing for the same skills as they embrace the green/decarbonisation revolution.

The technologies that will deliver the low-emission, low-carbon communities that people now want to live in are still being developed, and this also creates demand from other sectors for personnel with similar skills.

GM’s recent announcement of 3,000 new US roles – with a focus on engineers and scientists – to drive the development of electric vehicles is likely to be followed by many other investments in greener expertise, which will provide new opportunities for talent.

Established energy trading remains strong. Far Eastern LNG liquidity is likely to continue, and with it, the demand for the best people across all roles. Many businesses are still in the race to establish leading offices in Asia as LNG becomes more fungible and Singapore becomes an LNG trading hub. This is running concurrently with the growth of Asian energy demand generally – not least fuelled by the more rapid post-Covid economic recovery in this region. 

In the US, while the election of Biden as US president signals a shift to greater sustainability, the reality is more complex. America may be set to join the Paris Agreement again, and Biden’s Clean Energy Standard goes beyond both Trump and Obama in its ambition, but the shift to net zero comes at a political cost in a country where so many jobs are still tied into the use of traditional fuels.

Equally, if the West is shifting to renewables, LNG growth in Asia and especially in Singapore means demand for personnel will continue. Enterprise Singapore data reveals that commodity trading companies hired more than 15,000 professionals during 2017, representing a 2.7 per cent annual growth rate over the previous five years.

Renewable capacity and demand continues to grow. Data from the IEA shows that unlike other fuel usage, renewables used for generating electricity are predicted to grow by almost 7 per cent in 2020. This is creating a whole new market for talent, with much of the focus being on creating strong team-based cultures focused on achieving security and reliability of supply.

While many fear that AI is likely to displace jobs, the reality is that today, technology is driving demand for more experts with high maths, physics and programming skills.

Algorithms need careful handling by people in order to automate trades and examine changing data contexts effectively – and to deliver competitive edge. First, people have to build the algorithm, and then adapt and update in line with constantly changing conditions. Finally, the technology needs to be monitored for potential flaws that could result from unanticipated human factors such as bias being accidentally built into the original design.

Alongside this, a surge of start-ups and independents are developing user friendly technologies to support optimisation, price discovery and risk reduction, which is also creating more opportunities. Energy businesses need to act now to ensure they get the right strategies in place to attract, retain and develop the best talent today and into the future in the face of a rapidly evolving global landscape.

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