Tromping around a refinery in the early days of my career, I was profoundly fascinated by the technology, the engineering, the temperature and pressure extremes, the sheer scale of it all. And the idea that a barrel of oil can become anything from jet fuel and asphalt to lipstick and a crayon.
My interest in geopolitics and international policy kept me involved in the sector, especially the idea that energy can lift people out of poverty, contribute to national security, and is critical to our quality of life. And I will stay here because I know that what the energy industry does in the next 10 years can shape the world for the next century.
I share this curiosity with the hundreds of thousands of employees in and around the energy industry who are eager to turn their talent and attention to finding decarbonization solutions. This was discussed in our report, “Climate change and the people factor.” Corporate executives and boards understand now more than ever the need to act, and they appreciate the potential impact on stakeholders of their transition to a low-carbon economy. However, companies still have room to improve how they engage employees in order to achieve their goals.
Clarify the message: Global decarbonization needs energy innovation
The industry’s value has never been clearer than during the pandemic as the workforce kept our heat and lights on, our school and work computers powered, and our hospitals saving lives. But we still need to articulate the larger purpose, both externally and internally.
As I told Bloomberg recently, the more traditional parts of the energy industry are in fact a driving force in decarbonization and shouldn’t be counted out amidst excitement over green and renewable sources. Power and utility, oil and gas, chemicals and other energy and natural resources companies are not only hard at work removing carbon from their own operations and products, but they are also at the forefront of technology and innovation that can allow other industries to do the same.
Cultivate talent: Build skills and excitement from the inside out
Meanwhile, people want to be part of climate change solutions and have expressed the desire to work in careers that align with their values. And boy, do we need to have these people working for us. Energy executives have said that they seek employees with a range of skills and knowledge, including hydrogen engineering, carbon capture and sequestration and a deep understanding of carbon emissions — how to measure, analyze, abate and report it. There are exciting programs at colleges and universities, many in partnership with corporations, to educate new generations for burgeoning energy career opportunities.
As for immediate needs, most energy executives believe upskilling and retraining current employees will fill gaps. This will help offset anticipated job eliminations and role changes due to the energy transition.
Energy leaders should also take the additional step to involve all employees, whether or not they directly contribute to corporate decarbonization. At KPMG, for example, one of the five priority areas in our global ESG strategy includes training to empower all of our 227,000 people to be agents of positive change.
Compelling stories, more than statistics and reports, move people to action. And the most successful companies are expected to be the ones that figure out how to tell their stories well, leverage their employees’ drive to make a difference in the world, and unleash their competitive spirit for the good of the planet.
Now that’s something we can all be passionate about.