As industry needs become increasingly complex, so do the required skill sets including data scientists and IT specialists. For instance, as with many industries, big data science is transforming the energy vertical, providing greater insights into cost reductions and improved reliability. As utilities create more data from their new digital technologies, the need for data scientists will only grow. Already, there is a shortage of these skills. According to a 2014 report carried out by consulting firm Accenture, over 90% of its clients planned to hire people with data science expertise, but more than 40% cited a lack of talent as the number one problem.
Added to this is a significant need for industry participants to think out of the box. Of course, it is this innovative mindset and new skill set that will push the industry to the next level.
With exciting developments in energy storage, renewable energy and IoT, it comes as no surprise that companies from other industries are snapping up the opportunities that are emerging [Eneco brings home batteries onto the grid] so utilities need to move fast and employ these new skills and innovative minds as quickly as possible in order to stay ahead of the pack. There are those forward-thinking utilities that have chosen to embrace the move forward and some are even partnering with these new entrants, one recent example being Swedish power company Vattenfall which joined Bosch and BMW to harness the potential of batteries used in electric vehicles (EVs) to support a more stable electrical grid infrastructure.
Cultivating young talent in the energy industry
These innovation-seeking utilities understand that young talent, the next generation of consumers and potential employees, has a large role to play in their organizations and have been actively seeking them out. In fact, says Maikel van Verseveld, CEO at OMNETRIC Group, these new graduates are becoming more and more excited about what the energy industry has to offer. OMNETRIC Group is a joint venture between Siemens and Accenture and the company is dedicated to helping utility companies transform for a new energy economy. Encouraging the development of young talent is one way in which the company aims to do this.
Utilities are breaking with their conservative legacies,and are having to adopt more innovative models and technologies. This, and the prospect of improving the way people consume energy, is very exciting for young talent. Says van Verseveld, “Utilities understand that they must be perceived differently by young talent and are reinventing themselves to attract them.” He adds, “It is no longer a hard sell to convince people to consider our industry over the likes of Apple and Facebook. While Bill Gates said we needed an energy miracle, we would challenge that the technologies are there. We need the talent to change the game”.
Van Verseveld explains that it is important for the energy industry to collaborate with universities in order to attract the right people. For example, OMNETRIC Group collaborates closely with Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University in order to attract data analysts to the industry. “Basically, we set up a joint programme to enable people to learn about what we are doing, the opportunities we are providing, and how we team up with Singapore Power, a highly respected energy company. This is mutually beneficial for the energy company, the students and a service provider such as OMNETRIC Group. We have an interesting career path visual and they see how IT skills, data science and engineering fit into the development of a new energy landscape.”
The company is also collaborating with the University of Vienna and University of Texas at Austin.
“It’s all about cultivating young talent,” says van Verseveld. “It is a more continuous way of ensuring the entire team is learning: they keep us on our toes with their different and rapidly changing expectations. This is probably driven by innovation coming out of other industries. The under 30 generation expects the same level of innovation from the energy industry.”
“The feedback we get from young talent helps us improve existing processes and technologies. This in turn is very exciting for them as they see that they are quickly adding value.”
Collaboration between the “old” and the “new”
While the existing workforce in the energy industry may view young talent as a threat, there are those who positively encourage it.
Van Verseveld says that the OMNETRIC Group team views the introduction of young talent as a win-win situation. “Our company is all about fostering innovation and existing team members are keen to collaborate with an open mind, regardless of age.”
“Experienced practitioners articulate the current model and the benefits and drawbacks of the traditional solution. The young generation challenge some of that, but the main objective is to work together to come up with new possibilities. Everyone understands that while innovation is critical, it is also important that the process observes the imperatives of a reliable and safe energy service.”
In conclusion, Van Verseveld’s advice to the energy industry as a whole is that industry representation bodies push for more diversity, ensuring that new ideas are reflected in the adoption of new standards and ways of working. “Currently, it is very much each utility for itself when it comes to transformation. To change this, these bodies will need to shift from a traditional way of thinking to accommodate for increased innovation in the sector.”
OMNETRIC Group is a “Thought Leader Sponsor” at this year’s European Utility Week and will be showcasing the results of the Young Talent Report in which 60 young professionals were challenged to analyse the utility industry.