The chicken or the egg conundrum for cleantech recruitment

Exponential growth of almost 4,000 per cent of the cleantech sector in just seven years, according to PwC, has resulted in one of the most challenging recruitment drives ever known to man. Jobs in the cleantech sector and people actually taking these jobs have been steadily increasing for decades, and media coverage on all things climate change reached an all-time high last year while the COP26 Summit in Glasgow was held.

A report by research and development tax credit investment specialist, GovGrant, revealed the UK is hailed a leading nation in the field of cleantech, as investment into the sector hit new highs of £134 billion in 2021, 4.4 per cent higher than the previous record in 2018. A clear sign that the attention given to the health of our planet has been accelerated and revealing just how lucrative and infallible the sector is, and is going to be, for employment.

Continued growth for cleantech

There is no indication of this growth slowing, rather the latest estimates are that up to 100 million jobs in cleantech and renewables will need to be filled by 2050 to achieve the stringent net zero targets that have been set by countries across the world. Even despite some energy firms and certain politicians calling for green levies and pledges to be scrapped, the climate crisis has shone light on the abundant opportunities for start-ups in the sector and has allowed larger companies to make the long-awaited transition.

Over in the US, President Joe Biden has moved to advance clean energy technologies. His three-pronged approach is all very well, but it raises a question of how the workforce will cope with the additional manufacturing needs. In manufacturing, almost two in five jobs have simply disappeared since the 1990s, as processes have become increasingly automated.

But much like at the beginning of the industrial revolution where workers’ skills were transferred from manual labour and animals to radical steam engines and water wheels, another mass inflow of manpower is needed to power the transition away from energy production that worsens climate change, to more net zero-nurturing resources.

Workforce that is unsuited to net zero

“The only trouble is that the workforce doesn’t know what it’s doing,” David Hunt, an early renewables advocate with his UK solar installations business, says. A bold statement, perhaps, but now as the founder and CEO of Hyperion Executive Search, an executive search firm sourcing C-suite and board-level talent for cleantech firms across the globe, Hunt has first-hand experience of the talent issues that the industry is facing.

“Given the nascent nature of the sector, the manpower and knowledge doesn’t exist as things stand to deliver net zero targets. A huge global upskilling and reskilling mission is needed as workers are at the heart of the clean energy transition. Talent remains in short supply, and demand will remain high. That applies to the cleantech market in which I operate, but also many other sectors, as anyone who has taken a flight recently will have experienced.”

The economic urgency of net zero

The route to net zero is a complicated road anyway, even without skills and talent challenges. But as we have seen countless times in the history of industry, only a great deal of mobility will facilitate the changes necessary to adapt to the world’s needs; in this case, combatting climate change. With sufficient investment and human capital in the right places at the right time, these changes can be a force for good, and progress will inevitably be made. Hunt says the transition to net zero is no longer about merely saving a few turtles, rather a matter of economic urgency, and as the invasion of Ukraine has proved, life and death.

“There are countless studies which show renewable energy consumption and clean jobs decrease unemployment rates and contribute to the stable economic growth of countries. A clean energy economy results in the creation of more jobs – around 57 million to 134 million by 2050 – more than enough to offset the 2.7 million fossil fuel sector jobs by a landslide.”

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reported in 2020 there were 12 million jobs just in renewables, a third of which in solar power. “The figures speak for themselves – clean energy and subsequently a net zero world is a catalyst to improving social welfare, equality, wellbeing, and political and economic stability,” Hunt continues. “We need to stop kicking the can down the road. The sooner people get on board, the better.”

A change of pace is required

Another question is whether we are making enough progress. In the example of Biden’s recent investment, sure, the administration is doing its best, but it remains to be seen whether the three areas highlighted are the best focal points. The setting of impressive targets and a reshuffle of governmental priorities are great and all, but Biden’s recent actions to accelerate clean energy deployment and expand the domestic clean energy supply chai’, will only work if the workforce comes on board.

This does not happen magically. Governments need to commit to funding training and reskilling programmes which ease the strain companies feel when taking it on in-house and set a precedent for organisations to be more willing to look at talent in other industries. And, to fulfil the 100 million jobs quota by 2050.

“Despite what many think, you don’t need a background in cleantech or renewables for a career in cleantech,” Hunt affirms. “Clean industries are relatively nascent compared to others, and climate change is an unprecedented challenge for all of us, so it’s a level playing field. The skills people already possess are in high demand from leaders, it will just take the best of human ingenuity to pull together with the same goal in mind.”

A joint responsibility to deliver the skills

That is not to say the onus lies entirely on the world’s governments. Companies have a responsibility too. It is only through investment in training that we will see the necessary results, yet there remains a reticence to adapt because of the costs. So, who should act? Governments or companies? Is it a case of chicken and egg? No, both sides need to act now for there to be a real impact on the world we live in.

The solution lies in the two sides of the equation doing their part to adapt – the workforce and human resources (HR). Firstly, human capital is needed. The workforce must keep learning as fast as the world is changing. As we stumble into new territory, we must keep analysing and solving problems we have not encountered before. We did it for the industrial revolution, so we can do it again.

Secondly, HR must understand the scope of leveraging today’s technology innovation to unleash human potential. Hunt says since the start of Hyperion in 2014, he’s seen a “very significant shift” in the workforce as talent is moving from traditional oil and gas, automotive industries over to clean mobility and technology, both for job security and to genuinely make a positive impact on the world.

“Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day and retraining won’t happen overnight, but there’s no reason why a strategy executive for oil and gas can’t do so for EVs,” Hunt concludes. “What we are also seeing is an increased interest and inquisitiveness. More talented individuals are seeking a career switch to one with more meaning and purpose – one their children won’t be ashamed of – and this is sufficient to get the ball rolling. You can nurture this hunger and curiosity and build upwards.”

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