Closing the talent gap in the renewable energy sector

The energy transition has created a swathe of job vacancies across multiple markets, but there is still a major skills shortage. A panel of industry experts discussed why this shortage has happened and solutions for attracting talent

The global transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is opening up job vacancies across the world, but a shortage of talent in this dynamic sector is a challenge for many employers. Irena’s 2021 World Energy Transitions Outlook: 1.5° found that to effectively move towards clean energy and meet climate goals, renewable energy sector employment will need to grow from 2020’s 12 million figure to 38 million by 2030.

Roundtable panel

David Ingleson – global client director – AMS
John Barrie – global head of training – Vestas
Adel El Gammal – secretary general - European Energy Research Alliance (EERA)
Bettina Karsch – chief human resources officer – Cepsa
Beth Whittaker – chief HR officer – Veolia
Victoria Kotsyumbas – global talent and leadership CoE – Siemens Gamesa

The roles of different stakeholders in finding solutions

Collaboration between government, educational institutions and companies is one of the main ways the sector will fill the talent gap.

Adel El Gammal, secretary general of European Energy Research Alliance (EERA),  stresses the “critical role” of government when it comes to funding training and development initiatives. He says the European Battery Alliance Academy, which is co-funded by the EU and aims to reskill 800,000 workers in the next three years, is a “good example of an initiative that identifies where the skills gaps are across the value chain for specialist and non-specialist workers.” Initiatives like this can identify the best options for training new employees, whether that responsibility sits with government, academia or the private sector.

John Barrie,  global head of training at Vestas, adds that it’s both the responsibility of governments and the education sector to fund education for renewables jobs and highlight the potential of these careers, especially in areas where manufacturing has declined: “It’s something we’re looking into right now at Vestas and it’s extremely difficult, even as an industry insider to connect people to funding and jobs.”

Meanwhile in the UK, Beth Whittaker, chief human resources officer at Veolia, would like to see the government improve funding for shorter technical courses and be more flexible with the apprenticeship levy. She manages northern Europe for Veolia and says that a programme to encourage females in Belgium into technical positions in their industrial sector has been successful for the past five years, with very high employee retention.

Engaging the education sector 

Most panellists work closely with educational institutions to promote awareness of renewable industry careers, but David Ingleson, global client director at workforce solutions and talent acquisition specialists AMS, says more needs to be done within institutions, and much younger people need to be engaged. 

“We did analysis around how many renewables-related courses are being created in academia – encouragingly, there’s more – but nowhere near enough to get up to speed,” Ingleson says. “There needs to be an awareness among youngsters about this amazing career path. They need to be told this at primary school, not just secondary school or university or after their second job, because that’s their energy future.”

We did analysis around how many renewables-related courses are being created in academia – encouragingly, there’s more – but nowhere near enough to get up to speed

Barrie says the responsibility for achieving this lies with employers, education and government alike: “In October last year, we released an entry level framework for jobs in our industry, such as service and installation technicians. It provides a framework that educational institutions can adopt and potentially attract funding.” This represents a break from traditional ways of working with the education sectors. Barrie adds:  “In the old days, we would try to work with an individual college or university to develop a programme, but that’s not a scalable approach.”

El Gammal pointed out that academia needs to move faster to understand and cater to the needs of the renewables employment market: “I’ve seen a few universities where it’s very difficult to move this perspective forward. It’s not just about people understanding technology, it’s about understanding what the whole transition is all about.”

Why is there a talent shortage?

John Barrie, global head of training at Vestas, says the “exponential” growth expected in renewables means employers are “entering a period where we have a lot of competition for the same roles,” and the challenge is compounded by a “lack of skill and lack of people coming through the education system.”

Entire value chains are affected by the skills shortage and Adel El Gammal, secretary general of European Energy Research Alliance (EERA), says focusing recruitment resources on a specific technology is a trap for employers: “It’s not just about finding engineers, it’s about finding installers, grid engineers, everything that needs to be in place to enable accelerated deployment of low carbon technologies.” 

David Ingleson, global client director at talent resourcing company AMS, reiterates the lack of government and industry education and collaboration, which he says is “absolutely needed if we’re going to get anywhere near the targets we’re setting.” 

Victoria Kotsyumbas, global talent and leadership CoE at Siemens Gamesa, says more work needs to be done to engage a diverse group of young people with careers in the sector. She says: “When I go to universities, I often find that people don’t know this is a good sector with work security for the future. And it is a very male-dominated sector, especially technician jobs, so we need to adapt and make workplaces better for women.”

In the UK, Beth Whittaker, chief HR officer at Veolia, says a “perfect storm over the past couple of years” has affected the labour market: “We’ve had Brexit, changing priorities post-Covid, and tax changes for contractors, all of which came upon us in a relatively short period of time, coupled with an ageing workforce in the UK.”

 She adds: “But the flipside is that we don’t always know what roles or skills are needed. We only have about 50% of the solutions required to make this world more sustainable. So, we have to look at things differently; there’s not one qualification or level of experience that will give us what we need – diversity is absolutely key. Employers have to invest in people and be prepared to take some risks, so we get the best solutions, innovate and move things forward.”

Bettina Karsch, chief human resource officer at Cepsa, highlights a positive aspect to the competitive talent market: “GETI, the global energy talent index, has people moving into our industry because they are concerned about climate change, so there’s a beautiful opportunity to attract people into purpose-driven companies.”

Diversity and inclusion strategies

The panellists were passionate about diversity and inclusion strategies that make a real difference. 

“We need a collective effort to change, because not only will diversity help us make better decisions, we know that diversity increases profitability,” says Bettina Karsch, chief human resources officer for Cepsa, adding that the oil and gas industry is “about half a decade or more behind.”

At Siemens Gamesa, Victoria Kotsyumbas, global talent and leadership CoE, says upskilling managers on inclusive leadership is “not just about gender, it’s about perspectives, ideas, location, age, everything. It’s not just a nice thing to do, it is needed for the business to succeed. We need to be more open-minded and creative; we’re trying to mix people from different realities and different locations to create this global network and leadership community.”

We need a collective effort to change, because not only will diversity help us make better decisions, we know that diversity increases profitability

Ingleson describes diverse hiring as an opportunity for the renewable energy sector: “It’s not recycling the existing talent pool, this is about tripling in size over the next few years. With a diverse workforce comes more innovation, which is needed to come up with solutions.”

Offshore wind operations, which are often near urban areas with large disadvantaged populations, can provide “tremendous opportunities,” according to Barrie. “There are large communities of people who never considered themselves to be working 120 metres in the air fixing things. From a practical perspective, the size of that opportunity is something we can grasp through working with community colleges.” 

Whittaker advocates a “thinking outside the box” approach at Veolia, such as the company’s programme that helps people leaving the military use their transferable skills, a successful recruitment drive that has resulted in a 50% increase in female drivers, and an apprenticeship campaign for people of all ages who want to change careers, rather than just school leavers. “You can move the dial, you have to be quite brave about doing that,” she says.

Employer branding to attract talent for the future

Overcoming preconceived ideas about companies can be a challenge when attracting talent. Karsch says that Cepsa’s new strategy, ‘Positive Motion,’ promotes the company’s move away from fossil fuels and into renewables, while expecting managers to lead inclusively. This purpose-driven transition in oil and gas requires reskilling as well as new talent joining the industry.

For Veolia, Whittaker says the challenge is to raise brand awareness in the job market and showcase the wide range of green roles available. People increasingly want to work for a purpose-led company where their work contributes to something bigger and better, she says, adding: “A role at Veolia provides a unique opportunity to be a part of the ecological transformation and create a sustainable world for future generations.” 

Whittaker also points out that retention is as important as attraction: “If all you’re doing is attraction, you’re just topping up a leaky bucket. You want your attraction to be about growth and a level of turnover that can work for you from a business perspective.”

Ultimately, attracting talent to the renewable energy sector still comes back to creating jobs that offer real career opportunities and purpose. 

If all you’re doing is attraction, you’re just topping up a leaky bucket

Barrie says that Vestas, as a pure play renewables company, does not have trouble attracting people with a sense of purpose or passion. While salary is not necessarily the biggest draw, he says wind energy is still not as competitive compared to other utility and energy sectors, so “we’re not seeing the transition from oil and gas that we all hope to see. The reality is that perhaps it’s not a branding problem, it’s a money issue.”

Siemens Gamesa highlights career development opportunities within the company, rather than brand awareness. Kotsyumbas says the company “showcases how great it is to work here, so people know what to expect. People want to know how they can develop and grow in your company.”

Ingleson said the main branding challenge for all renewable energy employers is “authenticity.” He adds: “The employee experience has to feel the same as what they were told when they were attracted to the role. It’s a challenge to attract the right people with that message, because that message might show weakness, vulnerability and flaws, but it’s authentic and that’s the best way to go with this.”

The energy sector is undergoing a transformation. Traditional companies are pursuing a shift in purpose while renewable-first businesses are growing rapidly to meet demanding targets. But filling the resulting job vacancies relies on creative solutions around working with government and academia, improving diversity and crafting effective employer brands.

Of course, actionable steps can be taken by talent leaders right away. If you find yourself facing challenges caused by the talent shortage, speak to AMS to find out how they can help today at