Energy transition

A Practical Challenge to Scaling Up Low-Carbon Energy Systems: Technical Talent

Finding talent to advance technologies for energy transition is among the top concerns for executives in oil and gas, utilities, chemicals, mining, and agribusiness. Talent shortages, especially for technical experts, are slowing down progress.

Talent acquisition sign in the note. Recruitment concept.
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Finding talent to advance technologies for energy transition are among the top concerns among executives in oil and gas, utilities, chemicals, mining, and agribusiness. Talent shortages, especially for technical experts, are slowing down progress.

One in three companies reported difficulty finding the engineers they need in a recent Bain & Company survey of 600 executives. Digital and information technology talent is at a premium in all sectors and regions. Although about 60% of executives expect digital and AI technologies to change their businesses significantly by 2030 (only 7 years from now), they’re struggling to find talent that can help them move in that direction.

Frontline labor is also in short supply. One in four are not finding enough frontline workers, cited by 39% of the companies in North America and 42% in the Middle East.

The survey found that traditional energy companies are rethinking how they hire, manage, and retain talented people. For example, an unidentified large international energy company changed its approach to identifying talent and increasing diversity by taking a skills-first approach.

It reevaluated job descriptions to remove requirements that weren’t critical and is considering skills developed in other industries, recruiting at more schools, and looking at a wider range of degree majors. Energy companies may have to recruit from engineering firms, technology companies, and government.

The report noted that finding the talent to lead integration solutions and stakeholders is often difficult. “Rather than expertise in functional disciplines—from digital capabilities, electrical system design, and joint venture negotiations to niches like customers’ offtake and usage patterns or electrolyzer manufacturing—project leads who have significant ‘techno-commercial’ hybrid skills to integrate all of these areas, or who are great at nurturing partnerships, will be more likely to succeed.”

The complexity of meeting the world’s increasing energy demands while attaining net-zero goals was identified by the executives. To close the gap between energy provided by low-carbon sources and that provided by hydrocarbons, the struggle to find technical talent to supply the world’s energy needs will continue.

Bain noted, “The massive expansion of primary energy supply since the 19th century has driven an unparalleled improvement in human longevity and prosperity.” Those benefits, however, have not been equally realized in many parts of the world. Energy poverty remains a reality, especially in the global south regions. “Future population growth will be overwhelmingly concentrated in these regions, with the population of sub-Saharan Africa alone expected to almost double.”

About 675 million people do not have access to electricity, and 2.3 billion people (about 30% of the world’s population) have no access to clean cooking fuels or technologies that prevent premature death from indoor air pollution.

Using a scenario to emphasize the scope of the world’s increasing demand for energy, Bain wrote, “Say that India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, and other countries with low or very low energy consumption per capita today were to increase per capita consumption by 2050 to the level of, for example, Mexico, in pursuit of economic growth, a desirable goal. Global primary energy consumption would then grow by about 70 petawatt-hours, or approximately 45% of total global energy supply as of 2019.”

ExxonMobil, in its global energy outlook, said that to support the world’s growing population with rising living standards, 15% more energy will need to be produced in 2050 than today. It projected that more than 50% of energy demand will still be met by oil and gas in 2050. (Senior Technology Editor Jennifer Presley takes a closer look at future supplies in her feature, “Elephant Hunt—The Search for the Oil and Gas Supplies to 2050,” in this JPT issue.)

The world needs more clean energy, whether geothermal, hydrogen, renewables, nuclear, zero-emissions hydrocarbons, etc.—and it needs the technical knowledge to deliver it.

For Further Reading

Elephant Hunt—The Search for the Oil and Gas Supplies to 2050 by Jennifer Presley, JPT.

US Petroleum Engineering Graduation Rates Keep Falling, but Oil Execs Are Not Complaining Yet by Stephen Rassenfoss, JPT.