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Diversity remains a priority for the energy sector
6 min read
It’s not all about technology and carbon. International Energy Week also included weighty sessions on people, skills, training, and workforce diversity and inclusion. Nick Cottam listened in for New Energy World.
The energy sector is more diverse, more inclusive, more culturally aware and more people-focused than ever before. It employs more women, more female engineers as well as those in the so-called softer disciplines, and it delves deeper into the needs of local communities. But there is still some way to go. This brave new world of a more measured, more discursive, more distributed sector was at the centre of a lively debate on the final day of International Energy Week as part of the ‘Bringing communities together’ session.
Away from the nuts and bolts of the energy transition, the session provided a platform to reflect on the people side of the business. As Lydia Malley, Head of Training at the Energy Institute (EI), commented: ‘Equipping people with the right skills is one of the biggest challenges in keeping the transition on track.’ According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 60% of energy jobs in the future would require some form of post-secondary training – ‘I want the EI to be central in addressing that bottleneck,’ she said.
In its latest World Energy Employment report, the IEA notes that a staggering 65 million people work in the energy sector, 2% of the total labour force. This number, it writes, represents a decline in those working in oil and gas and a rise to over 50% of the total workforce of people employed in clean energy. Diversity is not only desirable but an absolute requirement if the sector is to meet the demand for a growing workforce, which has to both understand and implement the transition.
New green jobs
For its part, said Keith Anderson, CEO of ScottishPower, his company was creating 1,000 new green jobs, and 250 of them were already in the building. ‘Everyone in our company is working towards the new green deal,’ he stated. ‘If you’re not helping us go 100% renewable and getting to net zero, then I don’t know what you’re doing in the company.’
ScottishPower needed people from every age group and from every location around the country, he said. It was creating apprenticeships which both encouraged employer loyalty and ensured good retention rates. ‘The jobs we are looking at now will go on for 30 or 40 years, which is good for people and offers stability.’
In a part of the UK which has renounced nuclear power and is seeking to move on from the oil and gas in its backyard, Anderson believes the country has an attractive renewables story to tell, one which chimes well with both idealism and diversity. ‘We are building the infrastructure for the future of the country and the environment, and I think we’ve got a better sales pitch than any other sector,’ he commented.
All about culture
Speakers at the session agreed that the sector had to keep shedding its macho-only image of old. ‘This is all about culture,’ said former EI Chief Executive Louise Kingham, now a Senior Vice President at BP. ‘If people feel comfortable and fit in then we’re winning. A decade ago there were no females on the senior leadership team at BP. Today six out of 11 people in the team are women from different parts of the world.’
Is this making a difference? Is BP a more empathetic but also a more effective company as a result? While Bernard Looney’s net zero strategy has been challenged by hard-nosed investors, Kingham suggests that a more people-focused approach is essential if the company is to thrive and prosper through transition. ‘In BP we have an £18bn investment programme until the end of the decade. We’ve got to plan for that in terms of what skills we need and where they are needed,’ she stated.
BP’s Louise Kingham
Photo: Oliver Dixon Photography, for the Energy Institute
Getting out into the community, even for a behemoth like BP, was all part of the equation. That meant working with schools and local colleges to attract talent at a young age. It meant reaching out where once the brightest and the best would come knocking at the door and it meant making your case to those who expected a more flexible, inclusive workplace. ‘People are our most powerful asset,’ added Kingham, ‘and if we harness that asset, it will help us win.’
As more clean energy jobs are created the balance between supply and demand in different parts of the sector can be difficult to gauge. Kingham gave the example of a recent BP advertisement for 100 hydrogen jobs which had attracted 5,000 applications. The scale of interest was perhaps unsurprising, and the lucky ones were hired not only for their qualifications, but also because they stood out for their potential to work in an organisation which values difference.
Diversity and difference
This point was made strongly in the session by Simon Fanshawe, a member of the Powerful Women Board and Co-founder of Stonewall and Diversity by Design. ‘If we’re going to talk about inclusion, we need to understand difference,’ he said.
An energy company, for example, should work out what it was trying to achieve rather than simply paying lip service to the concept of diversity. Many people, he said, felt frightened around diversity inclusion and this wasn’t necessarily going to help a company achieve its goals.
Simon Fanshawe from the Powerful Women Board
Photo: Oliver Dixon Photography, for the Energy Institute
Greater diversity seems inevitable if the latest IEA predictions for employment in the sector prove correct. If net zero targets for 2050 are to be reached, notes the IEA, then 14 million new clean energy jobs will have to be created by 2030, while another 16 million workers will switch to roles relating to clean energy. Small wonder then that Scottish Power’s Anderson wants more 18-year-olds to take up his cause; why the energy sector as a whole has to make the case for long-term, sustainable employment.
‘We are at our heart a community business and we can offer and create jobs in every part of the country,’ is Anderson’s seductive pitch to young and not so young alike. ‘We will employ people in every town as part of our mission to deliver net zero.’
The challenge, agreed panellists, was to make the sector appear both exciting and forward-looking as well as culturally acceptable. While energy jobs would require higher qualifications, said the EI’s Malley, there would also be greater competition from other sectors, such as finance and digital telecoms, to attract the best candidates to fill those jobs. ‘There is definitely scope for the industry to promote itself better. Our workforce needs to reflect society and diversity of thought and innovation is critical,’ she noted.
This must apply in developing as well as developed countries if clean energy is to gain more traction and projects are to attract the investment they so desperately need. As Malley stressed: ‘Unless this is being done nationally or on a global scale it’s not going to work.’
Different ways to recruit
International Energy Week, you could say, was a microcosm of the diversity it preached, with strong female – particularly – but also minorities representation across the various panels. Lesley Babb, Ofgem’s Head of Inclusion and Diversity and a member of the TIDE (Tackling Inclusion and Diversity in Energy) talked enthusiastically about the contribution women could make to the transition. ‘Women can be more incentivised to go into green jobs because they want to add that value to society.’
There was not a massive skills gap, she said. It was a question of targeting people who had transferable skills and women were very much part of the equation. What’s more, she added, a significant percentage of millennials and ‘Gen Zers’ made job choices around the ethics of where they wanted to work.
For their part, added Babb, employers had to find different ways of recruiting, be more creative in their approach, and offer more vocational training. As for the conditions of employment: ‘People expect more flexible working,’ she said.
International Energy Week, you could say, was a microcosm of the diversity it preached with strong female – particularly – but also minorities representation across the various panels.
Beccie Drake, Arup’s Offshore Wind Digital Lead and a member of the RenewableUK shadow board, suggested that young people could play their part in the transition at a more senior level. She recounted her experience as a shadow board member as part of a Generation 2050 discussion, highlighting aspects such as mentoring and the opportunity to contribute to strategic topics. ‘It’s met all my expectations,’ she said. ‘I get to meet all the senior people at RenewableUK, and I’ve made friends which should last throughout my career.’
From primary school upwards
Durability stuck a chord throughout this people session. Anderson made the point that his company, and indeed the sector, needed to engage early, from primary school up, he said, in the case of ScottishPower. ‘Unless you tackle the child and the school you will struggle to make a difference.’
The reward he suggested would be the long-term fulfilment of a transition that was essential to solve the climate crisis. Only by building more renewable energy provision would the sector be able to drive down costs, while ensuring security of supply and a better environment.
Panellists agreed that getting the right people, inspiring them, respecting their differences and retaining them were essential elements of this challenge.