Renewables firms ‘risk talent exodus’ amid skills shortage fears

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Students at a Solar Energy International training facility in Colorado. Image: Solar Energy International.

Renewable energy companies globally are at risk of a talent exodus to outside industries as professionals consider alternative sectors to boost their career prospects, a new report has suggested.

More than three-quarters (77%) of renewables professionals would now consider leaving for another industry within three years, with the opportunity for progression the primary motivator, according to the sixth annual Global Energy Talent Index (GETI) published today by workforce solutions provider Airswift and job site Energy Jobline.

Featuring responses from 10,000 energy professionals and hiring managers in 161 countries, the research spans five sub-sectors: oil and gas, renewables, power, nuclear and petrochemicals.

The power sector would be the most popular alternative for renewables employees looking to switch industries, with 54% considering it due to close skill overlaps, while oil and gas would be the second most popular destination, chosen by a third.

More than half (57%) of respondents said they are worried about a potential skills gap in the renewables sector, up from 46% who expressed similar concerns two years ago.

While most professionals say renewables firms should shore up their skills by offering retraining and mentoring for existing employees before hiring outside talent, hiring managers are more likely to seek technical skills from other green energy firms than in-house, intensifying competition for limited skills within the sector.

The focus on outside hires over talent development could also threaten talent retention, Airswift and Energy Jobline found.

Johanna Schmidtke, lecturer in global energy management at the University of Colorado Denver said accelerating digitalisation of renewable design and maintenance has created a surging demand for digital and engineering skills. “This has put the sector in direct competition with outside industries such as technology.”

According to the report, the current skills shortage is driving up salaries, with 35% of respondents reporting a pay increase and two-thirds expecting a raise in the next year. Just 8% expect salaries to fall in the next 12 months.

The renewables industry is said to be turning to a mix of international talent and contractors, with 31% of the workforce composed of expats and more than half of hiring managers reporting that over 20% of their workforce are contractors.

Josh Young, director at Energy Jobline, said that with renewables firms competing for a falling number of seasoned professionals, employers should consider how best to create and communicate opportunities for graduates and apprentices as part of their talent programmes. “It is a great sector to work in – but not enough people know that.”

Global solar PV employment reached nearly 4 million in 2020, according to a report published last year by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), with China accounting for the majority of positions.

The latest edition of PV Tech Power explored where the skills gap is looming and industry efforts to build a workforce fit for surging solar installations. To access PV Tech Power and all previous editions of the journal, click here.

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