65 million is not enough

23 Feb 2023
Ahead of hosting International Energy Week 2023*, which is gearing up for discussions on transitioning out of the energy and climate crises, EI President Juliet Davenport OBE HonFEI warns we ignore workforce issues at our peril.

As we gather in London for International Energy Week, vital conversations will be taking place between our sectors’ leaders and influencers about the crises rippling across the world of energy today. The urgency of the transition to net zero to address climate change, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its dramatic impact on the security of energy supplies and, as a result, the cost of living are all profound challenges to overcome.

There will also be a focus on the energy technologies around which the solutions to these challenges are increasingly converging. We know we have the technological capability to ramp up energy efficiency, to deploy renewables at massive scale, and to remove carbon and methane emissions from the production and use of oil and gas, where or while they are still needed. And we know all of this is getting cheaper.

But assertions that our salvation lies in this or that technology risk ignoring vital human factors – which is why we’re devoting a whole day of the conference to issues around behaviour and the energy workforce.

As we look back over the period since the industrial revolution, it’s clear human endeavour in the field of energy has delivered incredible societal advancement, and today this benefits more of the world’s population than ever before. But we also now know our behaviours have resulted in appalling environmental damage. We must learn from this and, as we look forward, and turn again to our ingenuity for the way out.

A workforce of 65 million 

In new research by the International Energy Agency (IEA), we have the best ever global picture of the scale and nature of our sector’s workforce.

It is estimated that the energy sector employs some 65 million people worldwide. That’s nearly the population of the UK, or around 2% of global employment, and it’s roughly equally split across primary fuel supply, the power sector and end uses such as energy efficiency and vehicle manufacturing.

As the energy transition begins to deliver, the make-up of our workforce is changing. More than half of the total is now employed in clean energy thanks to the growth of supply chains supporting the significant uplift of new projects being built and in the planning stage.

And more than half of global energy employment is now in the Asia-Pacific, outpacing other regions of the world, driven by rapidly expanding energy infrastructure and a huge share of global clean energy manufacturing capacity.

Not enough

These 65 million people are working hard to push the sector forward and out of these turbulent times, but it’s still not enough.

Our energy workforce needs to grow, outweighing anticipated declines in fossil fuel jobs. On a trajectory to net zero by the middle of the century, the IEA expects us to need 14 million new clean energy workers by 2030, plus 16 million existing workers shifting across to new roles related to clean energy. That’s in just seven years’ time.

And we need higher-skilled workers, more so than other industries. Today, around 45% of energy workers are in high-skilled occupations, compared to only one-quarter across the global economy overall. Around 60% of the new jobs will require some degree of post-secondary training.

This all creates huge demand and opportunity for the next generation of energy professionals but reinforces how maintaining and growing our workforce looks set to be one of the biggest challenges of keeping the energy transition on track.

The best and brightest minds

This particularly goes for women, who are still badly under-represented in energy. Despite making up 39% of global employment, women account for only 16% in our sector.

I’m proud to be an ambassador of the POWERful Women initiative in the UK, helping to shine a light on the need for better female representation in our energy boardrooms and senior leadership teams. Staggeringly, almost a quarter of the UK’s top energy companies still have no women on their boards and only just over a quarter of seats are occupied by women.

I was glad to be part of a little bit of history last year, leading the first-ever listing of a company with an all-female board on the London Stock Exchange. Proof of concept, if any is needed!

We’ve got to get to grips with this – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because tapping into society’s diverse talent makes business sense and will be vital to tackling the profound challenges we face. As we seek to attract and equip the growing energy workforce, we need the best and the brightest minds with a diversity of thought and innovation. Not just in terms of gender but also ethnicity, sexuality and all parts of society.

With estimates suggesting around 60% of the emission reductions needed for net zero involve some form of societal or behavioural change, it’s clear that only a workforce that fully reflects and understands the diversity of society can have a hope of bringing about the necessary mix of behaviours and technologies.

*Registrations for the Energy Institute’s International Energy Week 2023 close on  Thursday 23 February. The hybrid conference will be held at the Intercontinental London Park Lane hotel and broadcast online, on 28 February to 2 March 2023.

This article was originally published in New Energy World

About the author:

Juliet Davenport OBE HonFEI, President, Energy Institute