Societal Benefit and Environment Protection are Key to Attracting Talent in the Energy Industry

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This is the conclusion reached by a panel of experts I have had the honour and privilege to chair at the 24th World Energy Congress in Abu Dhabi.

This was also what the majority of the audience in the room voted on live, as well as what the other delegates to the Congress selected via the poll run by the organisers before the session “Refuelling the talent pipeline: The Energy professional of the future”.

Representing the Energy Leadership Platform of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations at this prestigious triennial event, I sought to engage the panellists in a frank and open conversation about the energy sector’s attractiveness, reputation, trust and legacy.

Below is my session opening speech:

WELCOME TO ABU DHABI AND TO THE 24TH WORLD ENERGY CONGRESS!

What does the energy professional of the future look like? How can the industry attract and retain the right talent? What are the skills needed for future energy professions? How can we, jointly and separately, future proof the energy talent pipeline?

To answer these questions and more, we are joined today by a superb group of panellists:

  • Miss Louise Kingham, the CEO of the Energy Institute, UK
  • Miss Meera Al Mheiri, Nuclear Safety Inspector, Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulations, UAE
  • Miss Gulnara Bikkulova, Deputy Director General of Rosatom Corporate Academy, Russia
  • Ms Andrea Barber, CEO and Co-founder of Rated Power, Spain
  • Mr Nuno Silva, Technology and Innovation Director EFACEC Energy, and the Chair of the Future Energy Leaders of the World Energy Council

Before we begin today’s session, I’d like to share some statistics with you:

According to Payscale, Petroleum Engineering is America’s best bachelor degree by salary. Despite the revolution in renewable energy, petroleum engineers in the United States can expect to earn around $94,500 per year in the first five years of their career, with the typical pay rising to $176,900 per annum thereafter. The next most lucrative degree is in … have a guess? Electrical engineering and computer science – with the typical pay rising to $142,000 after the first five years of their career.

Rigzone estimates that more than 440,000 jobs worldwide were lost during the oil downturn of 2014-2015. According to IRENA, the global renewable energy employment reached 10.3 million jobs in 2017, 43% of these being in China alone.

Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have all struck lucrative arrangements—collectively worth billions of dollars—to provide automation, cloud, and artificial intelligence services to some of the world’s biggest oil companies, and they are actively pursuing more.

However, according to the “2019 US Energy and Employment Report”, in 2018 the US energy economy expanded by more than 150,000 net new jobs to now encompass 6.7 million people, representing nearly 5 percent of the U.S. economy.

Noteworthy is the fact that oil producing countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, are determined to find a clean replacement for natural gas, helping both the environment and their budgets.

For instance, by 2050, the UAE will have invested approximately $150 billion in renewable energy. This is expected to save the country $192 billion through reducing its dependence on gas subsidies.

Investing in renewable energy creates approximately three times more jobs than oil and gas and the UAE plans to create more than 90,000 jobs in renewable energy by 2030.

Does the energy industry speak with one voice? Can the “talent” the energy industry needs be secured from other sectors? How does the energy industry provide a safety net for those who may refuse to work in a volatile sector, constantly subjected to market forces?

And now, esteemed members of the audience, it is time for me to ask for your help: please answer the following question:

What would enthuse more talent to join the energy sector?

  • A more attractive pay?
  • Clear and consistent corporate values?
  • An enhanced overall sector reputation?
  • An industry focus on societal benefits?
  • An industry focus on environmental protection?

I was very pleased to see that, for an industry that is known for its difficulty to engage, collaborate and openly discuss complex matters, the panellists and audience proved ready to “talk”.

It is difficult to summarise a very dynamic 90 minutes panel session (and an even more engaged audience Q&A) in a blog. However, the conclusions reached today to ensure the energy industry is selected by many as a career choice, not just by a few, were:

  1. Learning how to communicate and speak “human”, with a much stronger emphasis on soft skills
  2. Engaging with a variety of partners in and outside the energy industry, ensuring the dialogue is honest and transparent
  3. Making the “sales pitch” relevant and truthful: energy has the potential to change the world and those choosing a career in the energy sector can make the world a better, safer and cleaner place for us all
  4. Minimising the technical jargon: it’s not about how many millions of dollars or pounds were invested, but about how many lives were changed for the better and about the sustainability of any such investment
  5. Technical skills – STEM – are a must for the energy sector; but so are collaboration, negotiation, active listening, empathising and relating to the energy industry’s publics.

A career in energy, it was concluded, is and should be more than a paycheque or the opportunity to work with cool, highly advanced digital and artificial intelligence technologies: it is about the legacy everyone joining the sector would want to leave behind.

It is a perfect time for energy communicators across the world to show their value and impact not just on the bottom line, but on the talent pipeline of their organisations. It is largely under their purview to engage their technical peers, executive management and board structures and prove why public relations is a strategic management function.

This is at the core of what the Energy Leadership Platform I have the privilege to co-chair is all about: what a totally soft skills practice can bring, as an intangible benefit and asset, to a totally technical skills-based industry.

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