Renewable energy is a burgeoning industry with significant potential. In fact, some economists project the sector will reach $1.8 trillion in revenue within five years. “We need to massively invest in renewables and carbon reduction if we want to have a planet that we can leave behind for our children to live on,” says Lars Gloessner, director at Spencer Ogden, a global energy and infrastructure recruitment company. In fact, despite the current economic climate of high inflation with global supply chain issues, renewable energy enjoys continued investments and government support. Still, the industry faces significant headwinds.
Chief among them is talent. Booming businesses need experienced workers, and the renewable energy industry is in the midst of an extremely competitive talent acquisition market. For example, the US Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 each have provisions investing heavily in the sector. And while federal policy is highly dependent on election outcomes — think of the fate of the Keystone Pipeline — the private sector is investing as well: Nearly all the largest utilities in the US have committed to reducing their carbon emissions, and numerous large companies are working toward using 100% clean energy, which is driving their purchasing decisions.
Keys to Successful Recruiting Across Industries
Spencer Ogden’s recruitment experts offer these tips for hiring managers looking to fill their temporary and permanent positions:
- Offer competitive compensation. Inflation has affected workers’ cost of living, so they are expecting to earn more as well. Also consider offering additional benefits, such as 401(k) plans, a long-term incentive plan and good healthcare benefits.
- Up the ante. “It’s a candidate’s market, and candidates’ expectations have been driven upward — often they’ll have competing offers,” says David Mills, associate director at Spencer Ogden. For office workers, this may mean being more flexible about remote or hybrid work. For workers in the field, this could mean ensuring they have the equipment they need to do their jobs safely, effectively and comfortably, providing work trucks, laptops and other communication tools as well as safe and clean accommodations near the job site.
- Broaden the search geography. For positions where remote work is an option, expanding your searches geographically opens up a larger labor pool. “Consider looking at people in different locations to be able to get the most talent at the most competitive price,” Nixon says.
- Candidate experience. Take steps to ensure the candidate experience is smooth from application to onboarding. Additionally, streamline the interview process to remove obstacles and unnecessary delays to the hiring process, because with talent so scarce, candidates won’t be available for long. “If you have a good candidate and the timing is right, don’t waste time,” Nixon says .
- Look for transferable skills. For example, someone who has laid or maintained subsea cables for the oil industry could likely do the same for offshore wind farms. “It is easier to teach an oil and gas person the intricacies of building wind farms in the ocean than to take an onshore project manager who is used to using trucks and teach them how to manage boat crews and deal with the logistics of a harbor,” Gloessner says.
- Long-term planning. Planning well in advance can help with recruitment as well. For example, being able to promise multiple projects over a 12-month period to a talented construction manager instead of just an immediate, short-term one not only will be attractive to the worker but save recruitment time and costs down the road.
- Build talent. Also a long-term strategy, develop programs within your communities to bolster interest in renewable energy as careers. Develop internship or apprenticeship programs to develop young talent.
“One of the ongoing challenges that we see with the renewable energy space is that there’s continued investment, with more companies popping up, and they’re all trying to tap into the same talent pool,” says Stuart Semple, associate director at Spencer Ogden. “There’s a shortage of people that have [the necessary] skills.”
For example, building a renewable energy infrastructure requires engineers to design energy storage systems, transmission systems and substations. But experienced engineers are in short supply.
Depleted workforce. “The labor market in the engineering world has shifted,” says Henry De Lusignan, Americas director for Spencer Ogden, noting that while Gen Z may be pursuing STEM fields, many industries from finance to high tech are in competition for them. “Energy hasn’t been on their radar as a career option.”
Meanwhile, experienced engineers are dropping out of the energy labor market, specifically those in oil and gas who began to opt for early retirement when the price of crude oil dropped to around $20 a barrel several years ago.
But the skills shortage goes beyond engineering. Across all industries, the competition for skilled blue-collar workers has never been so competitive — and it will only get worse within an industry whose demand is only increasing.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA, global employment in renewable energy was 12.7 million in 2021. Meanwhile, McKinsey & Co. research projects that the industry will need an additional 1.1 million blue-collar workers by 2030 to develop and construct wind and solar plants and another 1.7 million workers to operate and maintain them.
Immediate demand. Despite the talent challenges, the demand for projects continues to grow. For example, California last year mandated that all new cars sold within the state by 2035 be zero emission. Currently, just 16% of new car sales in the state meet this criteria. The uptake: Within 12 years, the state’s infrastructure must support these vehicles. And because many states follow California’s leadership in clean air standards, the need for a network of electric vehicle charging stations, for example, will be nationwide.
And that’s just electric vehicles. Many states and the federal government are offering tax credits to people who install to solar products in their homes and offices. Wind energy production also has incentives.
Projects such as these require people. From design to installation, funding is critical, but skilled workers are the linchpin.
The Spencer Ogden Advantage
Long term, the renewable industry needs to work to excite younger generations on the viability of renewable energy as careers, but the current environment requires immediate solutions. Skilled workers are needed across the board, from energy storage development to product development and installation.
Access to talent. This is where Spencer Ogden has the competitive edge. Long a recruitment leader in oil and gas, the company several years ago foresaw the coming focus on renewables and positioned itself to be at the forefront — from developing its own expertise on renewable energy to establishing relationships with investors in the sector. It has access to a broad depth of transferrable talent but also has deep understanding of the challenges facing its customers.
In order to support local skills shortages, Spencer Ogden has a dedicated team offering a flexible range of contractor solutions and global mobilization. It supports a broad range of services for the mobilization, assignment period and de-mobilization of all contractors. This process requires extensive knowledge of geographies and cultural nuances, including the management of visas to ensure effective relocation across borders, all of which help plug key shortages either for short-term needs or longer-term projects.
Subject-matter expertise. Spencer Ogden also is uniquely positioned to advise clients on the technical aspects of the industry. With extensive recruitment experience in the oil and gas industry, Spencer Ogden over the last 15 years underwent its own transition to service the renewables sector, enabling it to help clients identify where skills could cross from one industry to another. For example, an electrical engineer who has worked on an oil and gas site could quickly pick up the knowledge needed to work on a solar farm, which is likely less complex. And with its vast, global network, the company has the talent pool clients need to meet their staffing requirements.
“We understand the technical aspects of the industry extremely well,” Gloessner says. “We know the people that have worked on these projects for years and years.”
The firm’s broad view of all aspects of the energy industry yields sound advice for clients looking to hire the best candidates.
“We cover every aspect of the project life cycle, from financing to project execution,” says Georgia Nixon, associate director at Spencer Ogden. “We have conversations with candidates from private equity firms all the way through to the engineers that are delivering the project. It definitely helps us advise our clients.”
Thought leadership. In addition to its recruiting expertise, Spencer Ogden provides through leadership not just on the topic of renewable energy itself but on critical areas of talent acquisition and engagement, such as diversity, equity and inclusion, and works closely with its clients to further such initiatives as increasing the representation of women in the industry — currently, women comprise around a third of renewable energy jobs, according to IRENA.
To drive change from a DE&I perspective, Spencer Ogden developed the SOapBox podcast series, through which it hosts key industry stakeholders to discuss and highlight the ongoing diversity gaps that exist within renewables market. Guests come from a range of stakeholders, such as Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy, Vestas Wind Systems and Apex Clean Energy.
“We believe a diverse workforce powers innovation and is vital to our success,” De Lusignan says. “By putting equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of our development, we will be able to better serve our customers and deliver meaningful change that is sustainable for our community and beyond.”
In addition to SOapBox, Spencer Ogden hosts a roundtable event with clients, enabling them to discuss trends and challenges within the industry. It produces white papers to share its subject-matter expertise on a wide range of industry concerns, such as energy storage amid the heightened interest in electric vehicles.
Economists have high expectations for the renewable energy industry, but a lot of conditions need to be met for that to come to fruition — including achieving necessary staffing levels. Getting there, though, will be a win for all of us who want to leave behind a better planet.
To learn how Spencer Ogden’s renewable energy experts can help you meet your talent sourcing needs, reach out to Henry De Lusignan at firstname.lastname@example.org.