Steady salary growth is not enough to satisfy a power sector hungry for career progression
However, the key to attracting and retaining talent may lie in greater adoption of AI and investment in upskilling, with those in the power sector particularly optimistic about new technologies’ potential benefit for both their own careers and the sector.
Year-on-year, the power sector appears to benefit from relative stability, with a slim majority (54 per cent) of professionals reporting an increase in income, up from 50 per cent last year, and rising above pre-pandemic levels (48 per cent in 2020). Hiring managers follow a similar trend, albeit at higher levels, with 67 per cent reporting increased pay in the sector, up from 59 per cent last year.
This stability is expected to continue to pay dividends, with 77 per cent of professionals anticipating an increase in income in the year to come, and 76 per cent of hiring managers in agreement. Only three per cent of each group expect falls.
The theme of stability carries through into appetite for relocation, with 83 per cent open to a move, up marginally from 81 per cent last year. Just over a third (34 per cent) of the workforce are expatriates, and opportunities for cross regional transfers continue to trend upwards from 48 per cent in 2022 to 61 per cent in 2024.
While there has been a slight decrease since last year, career progression remains the main motivator for global mobility (51 per cent versus 58 per cent). The same barrier to moving – proximity to family – also retains the top spot. Women in particular worry about the prospects for long-term career advancement (11 per cent) while men are narrowly more concerned about their children’s education this year (12 per cent).
The most attractive destinations for relocation are Europe (selected by 34 per cent), followed by the Middle East (18 per cent), which edges above North America this year (15 per cent).
Attracting and retaining talent
Despite apparent satisfaction with salaries and steady appetite for regional relocation, professionals are not completely rooted in place: 91 per cent are open to moving roles, the highest of the survey’s sectors. Furthermore, while most prefer to stay within the power sector (58 per cent), 44 per cent are open to going elsewhere within the energy industry, and 23 per cent would consider roles in a new sector altogether.
As was the case last year, renewable energy is the sector of choice (cited by 54 per cent), followed by oil and gas (36 per cent). Beyond energy, 35 per cent would move to the technology sector. Manufacturing is becoming steadily more attractive, having been selected by 11 per cent in 2022, 16 per cent in 2023 and now 19 per cent in 2024.
The reasons for moving roles mimic those for moving regions: career progression is the primary motivator (chosen by 27 per cent), though by much less than last year (38 per cent). Interest in the wider industry is second (15 per cent), and the chance to work with innovative technology takes third (12 per cent), eclipsing ESG concerns which plummets to seventh place this year.
Commenting on the findings, Wenche Kjølås, independent director at several companies, sees: “A picture of fragile stability. Salary growth is good but not spectacular, and though career progression remains a top concern, professionals seem less convinced they need to make a move than last year to continue their career trajectory. Yet, openness to moving roles and regions is high, indicating a sector where professionals are settled but wouldn’t take much prompting to reconsider. As a well-established industry, power professionals are self-assured and have much to offer other sectors.”
Hiring managers should take note: 81 per cent of employees have been approached for another role in the last year, while over a third (34 per cent) have been approached six times or more. A significant minority (19 per cent) have received 11 or more approaches, with over one third of respondents saying more than half of these approaches came from beyond the power sector.
AI in the workplace
Though most power professionals (52 per cent) do not use AI in their role today, the sector is relatively forward-thinking. Thirty per cent of professionals say they already use AI, behind only renewables (32 per cent) and level with petrochemicals. A further 12 per cent expect they will be using AI within the next six months.
One third of respondents report that their workplace already has an AI policy, and 26 per cent have read it. Policies mainly focus on the benefits and objectives of using AI (58 per cent), with a reassuringly high focus on maintaining data protection, integrity and security (51 per cent).
However, six per cent of professionals are unsure whether they are already using AI, and 13 per cent are unsure if their workplace has an AI policy, suggesting more needs to be done with regards to internal communications.
Popular AI choices
The most popular tools among those already using AI seem to be generative tools such as Chat GPT, Bard AI and Claude. Nineteen per cent of respondents say they use these tools, versus 17 per cent prioritising machine learning and 15 per cent use artificial general intelligence such as autonomous vehicles, supercomputers, or deep AI software programs that mimic human intelligence. A further 19 per cent are unsure of which tools are used.
The main use cases for these tools are automated workflow and workplace collaboration (27 per cent), remote monitoring and automation (26 per cent), safety and inspection improvements (25 per cent), and data analytics for optimising energy production (25 per cent).
Ken Corriveau, CIO at Omnicom Media Group, comments: “There are a host of potential applications for AI in the power sector, from generic back-office functions to more specialist tasks such as distributed generation and trading optimisation. I would not be surprised to see these numbers leap upwards in the near future.”
The future of AI
Professionals in the power sector are looking forward to an AI-powered future: 86 per cent are positive about AI’s future impact and 53 per cent are ‘very optimistic’ – more than in any other sector.
On a personal level, 78 per cent look forward to increased productivity in their role, while 64 per cent are excited about new career opportunities, and 63 per cent about increased job satisfaction. Most (59 per cent) think AI will help them spend more time with family and friends.
Beyond benefits in their own roles, respondents see great advantages for the power sector. Twenty-eight per cent say AI will increase research, development, and innovation, and 27 per cent expect better optimised production, services, and solutions. Around one quarter believe AI will reduce labour costs (26 per cent) and improve predictive analytics and forecasting (23 per cent).
For Corriveau, this is cause for excitement: “Though AI does hold great promise for workflow improvements and similar implementations, I personally see the greatest potential in the power it can bring to research and innovation. There are parallels in the healthcare sector, where researchers expect to use AI to crunch vast amounts of data for things like drug development. The same logic applies to the energy sector, and it’s great to see that power professionals seem to recognise this.”
However, there are both risks and barriers to greater AI adoption. Respondents worry that the next two years could see a reduction in the human or personal touch (a concern for 43 per cent), lack of training leading to misuse or poor adoption (32 per cent), or cyber security risks (32 per cent).
Professionals also worry about lack of clarity over which AI tools are the best fit for their company, insufficient investment in AI applications, and insufficient employee support for its roll-out.
Kjølås says: “Power is a broad sector and varies considerably from region to region, and in many ways, it is the backbone of the industrial world. Here in Norway, when you think of power, you think of hydroelectric plants with their long history and green profile. Elsewhere, you may think of coal or gas, which is working hard to become more sustainable. What’s consistent, though, is that if you are to attract new people to work in the sector, they must enjoy the tools they work with and the ways of working. AI shows a lot of promise in this respect, but people need greater clarity”.
AI skills for the future
Power professionals expect AI to increase demand primarily for technical skills. Around one quarter believe programming and software engineering (27 per cent), data science (24 per cent), machine learning (24 per cent), along with IT and cyber security (both 23 per cent) skills will be in higher demand.
In contrast, around one fifth of respondents predict an increased need for soft skills. Critical thinking and problem solving, and creativity and innovative thinking are both chosen by 21 per cent. Leadership and people management (17 per cent) and communication skills (15 per cent) rank lower.
Overall, 63 per cent of respondents believe AI will increase pressure on them to study or learn new skills, and they intend to rise to the challenge. The most popular areas for upskilling are machine learning, programming and software engineering, plus IT skills and critical thinking and problemsolving abilities.
Janette Marx, CEO of Airswift, concludes: “Power professionals maintain the importance of technical skills in response to AI, and they aren’t afraid to meet that challenge head on. Though most in the sector are open to moving roles, we know they prize career progression opportunities, and hiring managers have a great chance to boost retention by giving them opportunities to develop the skills they have identified.”