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Renewable Energy Firms Compete for Talent in a Tight Market

As global demand for renewable energy increases, leaders of the renewable marketplace are competing for professional talent in a tight employment market. Right now, some firms have as many as 10-15 job openings, a sure sign that the search for talent is a difficult one to say the least. The demand for top talent obviously extends beyond the renewable industry. For over a decade, the high-tech, medical and financial services industries, to name a few, have dealt with significant challenges in attracting and retaining top talent. The rapid growth of the renewable energy industry today coupled with continuous talent shortages and increased employee turnover, means that firms must develop creative talent acquisition strategies and ramp up activities pertaining to all levels of recruitment.

If you were able to poll the entire renewable industry, you would likely find a vast majority of renewable energy professionals entered the industry motivated by the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit: taking into account environmental and social performance in addition to personal financial gain. Once in the industry, it's the explosive industry growth that retains the talent. Christine Real de Azua, American Wind Energy Association's Assistant Director for Communications says, "people who join the wind energy business stay there. With the industry growing so fast, why would they leave?"

After a successful career as an entrepreneur and non-commissioned Officer in the US Air Force, Sean O'Hanlon, President of the American Biofuels Council in Miami began to contemplate the true measure of success. He says, "Fundamentally, I looked at the [biofuel] landscape; saw a torch on the ground and no one picking it up. The deeper I get into it, I find this to be the most satisfying and rewarding profession I have ever had."

Although the environmental argument predominates, it's the economic value proposition that most often initially draws customers to purchase green technology and also initially draws professionals into joining a green organization. Renewable Energy firms need to shout about what they offer and how successful the market really is. Candidates need to understand the potential upside in terms of financial opportunity; otherwise they will be unenthusiastic about trying something new what they might believe is "risking their careers."

At the C-level, the opportunity to align your leadership philosophy, vision, mission and values with an organization is an attractive proposition. Doug May, CEO of UniRac, spent twenty years in various high tech leadership roles. He says that UniRac was a natural choice for him "to turn the challenges which face this industry into opportunities."

The few clean energy firms that have successfully mastered recruitment challenges realize that professionals do not have to be armed with a particular skill-set to be successful in the company. At UniRac, "we work very hard to understand what you are good at; in the years ahead, we are competing and fighting for talent," says May.

According to Fab Barasti, Director of People at Juice Energy in New York City, no one at the firm requires previous energy experience. "Rather, the cultural fit, being extremely bright and intelligent are a must. Our main goal is to grow the company; we are in business to make money and in business for a good cause."

Employment or recruitment branding (E-branding) is an emerging strategic initiative based on the premise that competing for business and competing for top leadership and professional talent are parallel and inter-related activities. It's been proven that an effective E-brand initiative helps create a favorable perception of your organization and will attract the right top leadership and talent to your firm. Truly exciting, challenging and rewarding career opportunities exist at many clean tech firms, yet as wonderful as these opportunities are, there is no guarantee that the jobs themselves will automatically translate into an immediate and abundant pool of top-talent. The job opportunities much like an organization's products or services require implementation of strategic marketing initiatives.

There are primarily two strategies of recruitment — passive and proactive. Passive recruitment strategies attract active candidates. Passive recruitment is typically when a firm posts its career opportunities on a corporate website and on any number of industry or general career or job boards and network sites. The most common responders to these job ads and Internet postings are active candidates — often unemployed or disgruntled job seekers in need of a job. They are the most obvious recruitment audience, easiest to target and most likely to respond immediately.

Proactive recruitment strategies attract considerably passive candidates. Proactive recruitment, aka "headhunting," requires continuous and active pursuit of prospects through several means including multiple sourcing, cold-calling and targeting competitors. Highly skilled, well-employed and not actively seeking a job or career change, these candidates typically are not found on job boards or network sites and most likely will not answer a help wanted ad, no matter how well the job description is written or how special the opportunity appears. Although passive candidates are under no pressure to secure a new job, any number of factors (advancement, relocation, additional responsibilities, greater compensation potential, etc) might motivate them to consider such a job change. One of those motivations might well be your firm's career opportunity or career value proposition.

Finally, a winning a talent acquisition strategy in recruiting top-talent and leadership requires the following.

  • Understanding the near and long-term objectives of your business, your C-leadership's vision and commitment to innovation or advocacy, your industry and competitive landscape.

  • Engaging a discussion about your firm's specific employment value proposition. Gathering input that will enable a better understanding of what your top performing employees believe is unique and outstanding about their career and your organization. Beginning to develop your E-brand.

  • Forecasting and budgeting your anticipated hires by role. Identifying your talent needs and planning a recruitment strategy utilizing both passive and proactive recruitment resources.

  • Boldly sharing with prospects, candidates and internal and outsourced (external) recruiters your understanding and perception of C-level leadership's values. Consistently articulating the firm's compelling value proposition and challenges.

Firms are exploring and refining strategies to articulate their unique career value proposition. Differentiating a firm from its competitors and inspiring the right talent to consider your opportunity, while compelling them to resist offers and counteroffers from other organizations, is a recruitment job well-done. In the end, human talent will increasingly prove to be an organization's most distinctive competitive advantage.

Dawn E. Dzurilla is Founder and President of Gaia Human Capital Consultants, an Executive Search Consulting firm solely dedicated to providing recruitment solutions specifically for renewable energy, environmental and corporate sustainability organizations and non-profits clients. She has twenty years of recruitment experience and approximately ten years of environmental & corporate sustainability experience, including Co-Founding an innovative Socially Responsible Investment Management (SRI) firm, which integrates personal, societal values and environmental concerns with individual investment decisions. She is a resident of Naples, FL and New York City.

This is the second article in our series on Human Resource Management in Renewable Energy firms.   

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Dawn Dzurilla is Founder & Managing Partner of Gaia Human Capital Consultants a leading Cleantech & Renewable Energy Industry Executive Search Firm. Dawn manages retained client search engagements across a variety of executive and senior-level are...

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