Salaries are back above pre-pandemic levels as the energy transition accelerates, but renewables skills are being sought by other sectors and industries, including technology
Renewables are also in a state of flux as rapid AI adoption creates new risks and opportunities. Employers will need to ensure their policies, training, and skills keep pace with the AI revolution.
Amidst an accelerating clean energy transition, renewables salaries are on an upward trajectory, with 51 per cent of professionals reporting a pay rise compared to 47 per cent last year. Twenty-four per cent report a salary raise of five per cent or more compared with 20 per cent last year. Among engineers, pay increases have been even higher, with 54 per cent reporting a rise.
Hiring managers have an even sunnier outlook, with 62 per cent reporting a pay increase and 34 per cent reporting a rise above five per cent, a five per cent increase over the last two years. Salary optimism also remains high, with 73 per cent expecting a pay rise next year compared with 74 per cent last year.
Janette Marx, CEO of Airswift, says: “A growing green skills gap has increased competition for talent, which is reflected in rising salaries. Pay is also rising to keep pace with high inflation and interest rates.”
Amidst increasing international decarbonisation, the proportion of companies offering overseas job transfers has risen to 58 per cent from 52 per cent in 2022. The proportion considering relocating has also risen slightly (79 per cent compared to 78 per cent last year).
With intensifying transatlantic competition on clean energy from the EU Green Deal to the US Inflation Reduction Act, Europe and North America are the top destinations for relocation (34 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively). However, the gap between them has narrowed by five per cent since last year. Marx says: “The world is increasingly ‘levelling up’ on clean energy development; with over 90 countries now having net zero targets, there is a wide array of opportunities for international relocations. Rival green policy incentives are creating an increasingly competitive global talent race.”
As for reasons for relocation, career progression has fallen slightly (53 per cent vs 58 per cent last year) while lifestyle and low cost of living has risen (11 per cent) amidst rising living costs. Better access to innovative tools and ways of working, such as AI, is third place, as technology becomes an increasing differentiator for employer brands.
Attracting and retaining talent
As industry growth intensifies competition for talent, 32 per cent of renewables workers have been headhunted for a job six or more times, and 13 per cent received more than 16 approaches last year. Around a quarter say over half of approaches came from an outside industry or expertise, and only 22 per cent have not been approached.
Interest from recruiters is reciprocated, with 88 per cent of renewables workers considering switching jobs fuelled by opportunities for career progress and interest in the wider industry. Thirty-eight per cent would move to another energy sector, with power (43 per cent) overtaking oil and gas (42 per cent) as the sector of choice. Technology has also risen as a top outside industry choice (29 per cent compared to 25 per cent last year).
Adrian Smith, Executive Group Director of Transformation at Worley, says “Growing electric grid interconnections with renewables are creating a parallel intersection of skills between power and renewables. Accelerating renewables digitalisation is also creating overlaps with industries such as technology.”
AI in the workplace
AI is increasingly being introduced across the energy industry, and renewables emerge as the most technologically progressive sector, with the highest proportion of respondents (32 per cent) using AI in their role.
Marx says: “Technologies such as AI are critical to solving renewables challenges from storage to stability of supply with innovations such as data-driven flexible storage and generation. This is reflected in the growing embrace of AI across the sector.“
The proportion of companies with an AI policy (36 per cent) closely matches the proportion using it. However, 28 per cent of those who have a policy have not read it, while 15 per cent of all respondents are unsure if their workplace has one, indicating a need for greater employee awareness.
The main topics covered in AI policies after the benefits and/or objectives of using AI (63 per cent) are maintaining data protection, integrity, and security (54 per cent) and training requirements (44 per cent). Combined with the subsequent finding that top three risks from AI include cyber security and ‘poor training leading to misuse or poor adoption’, this suggests that inadequate training could expose companies to security breaches or misuse.
Marx notes: “With AI adoption at an early stage and accelerating rapidly, the industry is still forming policies and procedures. AI policies increasingly exist on paper but must be put into practice through improved employee training.”
Popular uses of AI
User-friendly generative AI models such as ChatGPT, Bard AI, and Claude (22 per cent), followed by machine learning (19 per cent), are the most used AI applications in the sector. Artificial General Intelligence is also relatively widely used (14 per cent), amidst the increasing adoption of technologies such as Unmanned Autonomous Vehicles for remote inspection.
Automated workflow and collaboration tools are the biggest AI applications for renewables (30 per cent), alongside higher-order tasks such as using AI to optimise energy production (28 per cent) and improve products and services (22 per cent). Just under a quarter of engineers (23 per cent) say their company uses AI to create safety and inspection improvements.
Smith says: “AI has the potential to transform renewable energy processes and production from autonomously selecting the most cost-effective energy mix for electrolysers to data-driven synchronisation of generation and demand.”
Enthusiasm for AI
Employees anticipate challenges ahead, especially insufficient investment in AI applications and employee support for AI. The findings indicate that employee resistance to adoption could be overcome through better information, as respondents cite a lack of clarity on which tools offer the best fit for the company among the top three challenges.
Eighty-seven per cent express optimism about the future impact of AI, with 51 per cent very optimistic, 36 per cent fairly optimistic and just three per cent not optimistic. Seventy-eight per cent believe AI will drive an uplift in their personal productivity in the next two years, while 62 per cent believe AI will create new career and progression opportunities and boost job satisfaction.
Perhaps relatedly, 45 per cent believe that AI will increase time spent on strategic tasks or using soft skills such as creativity and problem solving (50 per cent).
Smith says: “AI could turbocharge productivity so that employees head home every day feeling like they’ve achieved more than before, automating repetitive tasks to free up time for value-adding roles and career development. AI could also bring new roles into renewables and engineering from data scientists to prompt engineers and cause employers to put a higher premium on human skills such as creativity.”
Among other positive impacts of AI, respondents cite future increases in research and development (33 per cent) and optimisation of productions, services and/or solutions (29 per cent). However, this is clouded by significant concerns around a lack of human or personal touch (43 per cent), insufficient training leading to misuse or poor adoption (34 per cent) and cyber security risks (31 per cent).
Marx says: “AI will create new challenges around data security and ownership as it will involve inputting sensitive corporate data and there are questions over who owns the outputs. Yet this is an opportunity for companies to allay employee fears and reduce risks by harnessing AI’s predictive capabilities to boost cyber security while enforcing clear rules around data use.”
AI skills for the future
In contrast to the popular perception of automation replacing human jobs, 96 per cent say AI will increase demand for human skills. Technical skills such as programming/software engineering and IT (both 27 per cent) top the list, followed by machine learning (26 per cent). Twenty-four per cent anticipate demand for cyber security and 23 per cent for robotics skills, yet few workers are being influenced to develop cyber and robotics skills (18 per cent and 16 per cent, respectively), creating potential skills shortages in these areas.
The findings indicate that soft skills will also be increasingly desirable as automation increases the value of uniquely human work. Sought-after soft skills include critical thinking/problem solving skills (21 per cent), leadership and people management, and creativity/innovative thinking/thinking outside the box (both 19 per cent).
As companies race to future-proof their workforces for AI, professionals are also being influenced to develop the most in-demand skills from machine learning (27 per cent) to data science (24 per cent) and IT (23 per cent). Over a quarter of engineers (27 per cent) are considering developing programming / software engineering skills in response to AI.
Marx says “AI creates new risks and therefore openings for jobs tackling challenges from data security to AI policy enforcement. This will involve creating roles responsible for instilling an ‘AI culture’ across the workforce from better data hygiene to ethical AI practices.”