Energy workers are the answer to the tech talent shortage and pay packages alone will not attract them

By Sam Cross, Chief Revenue Officer and SVP – Americas at Airswift, the global workforce solutions partner for the STEM industries.

In our latest Global Energy Talent Index (GETI), “Career Progression” places as the main reason for a change in roles.

First, you need to cast a wider net to reduce the tech talent shortage

The technical skills shortage is no secret – with tech businesses among the hardest hit. The problem has been picking up pace over the last ten years and attracting and retaining talent continues to present a challenge, despite the sector’s reputation for substantial salaries and inspiring innovation.

Upskilling existing employees is only one piece of the puzzle. To keep up with their pace of growth in a competitive landscape, tech companies need to think outside the box and look elsewhere for skilled engineers and data scientists. Energy may hold the answer.

Energy workers are ready and willing

It’s understandable that energy might not be the first place tech businesses look for technical talent. After all, it has long been stereotyped as a slower-paced and more conservative industry – in some ways the antithesis of the fast-moving mentality adopted by tech firms all over the world.

But the stereotype is a poor one. In truth, energy firms are always innovating, and the industry represents a rich seam of talent worth mining – with many professionals holding decades of experience working on large and highly complex projects, utilising the latest technologies to solve critical problems for society.

Indeed, the latest Global Energy Talent Index (GETI) report finds an industry with an unquenchable thirst for technical skillsets. Engineers are of the utmost importance but so are highly flexible project managers and designers, many of whom are well-equipped to smoothly transition into a new sector.

This is before we consider digital skills. Energy professionals have long embraced the latest tools, such as the Internet of Things, machine learning and cloud computing. Digital twins are currently being used to enhance safety and manage asset operations more efficiently around the world. Meanwhile, AI is also increasingly being relied upon for grid management and efficiency, predictive analysis, increased production, energy trading and more.

Even better, perhaps more than any others, this is an industry with an in-built understanding of ESG issues. All energy sectors have made huge strides in recent years as the energy transition has climbed the list of global priorities.

As Deloitte predicts the next wave of growth within the tech sector to be intimately tied to the solving of critical sustainability issues, ESG will be a major factor in the securing of investment over the coming years. Who better than energy professionals to aid in that process, applying the lessons they’ve learned shepherding energy businesses through similar circumstances?

The good news is that energy professionals are open to offers. When asked, almost one-in-three GETI respondents said that they would consider switching to a role in technology within the next three years. The question is, how best can tech businesses attract them?

The new wave of talent wants freedom and flexibility

While the tech sector is one of the few that can regularly compete with energy employers on remuneration and benefits, that is by no means enough to attract – and, perhaps more importantly, retain – energy talent. One of the major trends identified by GETI over the past five or six years has been a reduced role of pay packages in the decision-making process of those considering a switch in roles.

The first consideration is career progression. Thirty per cent of energy professionals cited progression opportunities as the primary motivator for a potential move. Backing this up is the chance to work on innovative projects, with cutting-edge tools and technologies – two factors that inherently align with tech employers’ natural strengths.

All this serves to say that tech businesses should feel confident in their chances of attracting energy professionals to plug current and future skills gaps. Nonetheless, there are lessons to learn. Perhaps most acute is the need for freedom and flexibility.

Remote and flexible working practices, which tech employers have in many respects pioneered, represent a good start. But could they go one step further?

Energy professionals are used to building international portfolio careers and that continues to appeal. Nine-in-ten GETI respondents would consider moving to another region for work, yet only half of industry employers offer the opportunity. Embracing the globetrotting nature of today’s technical talent could be the key to unlocking one of the most promising new pools of professionals equipped with the expertise, experience and (if you’ll forgive the pun), energy to grow the sector as it seeks to solve critical sustainability issues.

To put this all simply, with the skills gap only set to widen over the coming years, competition for talent will intensify, not only within sectors but between them. Technical professionals will be spoilt for choice. To attract personnel capable of sustaining their rapid growth, tech firms will need to not just cast the net wider but bait it with clear progression paths, opportunities to innovate and the freedom and flexibility to build roles on talent’s own terms.

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