Richard Hutchings, Vice President of Engineering Services, Experis
February 21, 2012 | 2 Comments
When it comes to hiring, the biggest issue renewable energy employers face today is finding the right engineers with the right skills for their businesses. This can be identified as "talent mismatch," or an imbalance in the labor market between the people applying for positions and the skills required. The very nature of the renewable industry, with its constantly evolving technologies, presents great challenges for employers when it comes to finding the right matches for their mission-critical positions. But there are progressive actions that renewable energy employers can take to secure the right talent for future productivity. In fact, there are three simple considerations: identifying transferrable skills from other industries, using creativity to put people in the right positions, and offering dual-ladder career paths.
To really address this talent shortage, employers must move away from a “stop-gap” hiring mentality and address the bigger picture of how to attract and retain quality engineers for the long term. By first identifying transferrable skills from other industries, employers can take advantage of skillsets from a wider talent pool to introduce “new” talent to the renewable energy space. Most skills required within the renewable industry actually mirror those learned in other engineering fields. So although candidates may lack the specific industry knowledge, their skillsets often already support the technical requirements of roles.
Take the aerospace industry as an example: those working in aerospace powerplant design are addressing similar design challenges as those working in the wind industry; the common thread being both applications are built around the concept of a turbine for generating power. It’s the same with the automotive industry: the metals and composites used here are also being used in renewables. It’s crucial for employers to broaden their mindsets and think creatively and flexibly around the problems they face across the whole industry. In doing so, it may just become apparent that the solutions are right in front of them. Whether engineers are willing to apply learned skills to new and growing areas like renewable energy, however, remains to be seen – what is clear, though, is that those who are eager will offer much-needed talent solutions for employers.
In addition to exploring related industries for talent, today’s renewable energy employers must be more creative when it comes to putting people in the right positions within their organizations. By re-examining the assets that are right in front of them, employers can oftentimes find immediate solutions to hiring challenges. We refer to this as the “race horses pulling plows” problem – a problem that employers can easily fall into. It’s vital that employers ensure their workforce’s potential is used intelligently and profitably – in the same way that a farmer wouldn’t use a race horse to plow his field, employers must seek out untapped skills to build strong, prosperous workforces.
At Experis, we see the same bottleneck occur in many organizations: corporations need to attract junior talent but only have highly skilled technical roles available. As a result, potential stars are working in day-to-day maintenance roles when their skillset could — and should — be better utilized elsewhere. By shifting this talent upwards, moving the skilled maintenance workers into more technical positions, employers can free up the more process-focused roles that are suitable for junior talent and allow them to hone their craft. Ultimately, a creative approach to hiring can help employers build from within by keeping talented individuals and developing skills that enable business growth.
Over the long term, retaining top talent becomes increasingly difficult, especially as highly skilled engineers continue to be in top demand. To keep the best and brightest talent in place, offering dual ladder career paths is an important hiring strategy to adopt for the future. The normal career curve for engineers rising up the career ladder is to ultimately transition from senior, technical positions into managerial roles. However, this progression results in a critical loss of their expertise, operational insight and technical knowledge. What we’re hearing from engineers is that they don’t necessarily want to move into the managerial roles and away from technology, but there is currently little incentive for them to remain on this path versus higher paid managerial roles. A potential solution to this, and something that we are beginning to see within the renewable industry, is a dual structure. This allows senior technicians to progress in their technical capacity while being paid in line with those moving into managerial roles, ultimately retaining their skillset and contributions to the business.
As an industry, as employers, as employees, there is much work to be done to decisively tackle the talent shortage problem. In 2012, employers need to take a long-term view of their talent management strategies and identify those transferrable skills within their current workforce to utilize existing talent and create the most valuable path of development for future workforces. Those employers adopting a more creative approach to optimizing workforce skills will be in a stronger position to ensure their next-generation of staff is skilled, stable and engaged.