When leaders from across our industry gathered recently for the Energy Workforce of the Future Summit, we agreed on the biggest task facing us: building the workforce to power the energy transition. This isn’t just the most important challenge in our sector, it’s one of the most important challenges in the country and across much of the world.
More than ever, society needs us to build a bridge to a new low-carbon era, filled with all forms of energy through top quality, rewarding, well-paying jobs. Now, those who have long been left out of the industry want to finally have a real part in it.
This takes work. It takes transformation. But we can do it. In fact, we’re already on our way. At a time in which political and societal divisions seem to be higher than ever, real progress is being made, giving me reasons for optimism.
Job growth is on the rise, with unemployment hitting a 53-year low, and energy is outpacing the overall labor market with even more growth. Within the sector, clean energy jobs, including renewables, are often seeing the most growth. The United States is also experiencing a manufacturing boom, with headlines proclaiming that “Made in America” is back. This is helped along by the Inflation Reduction Act which, among other things, is expected to spur the creation of thousands of energy jobs in every state.
Guiding this growth in the right direction is essential. That means building in a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at the core. At my company, ALLY Energy, we have created a roadmap to help make that happen.
Four Key Pillars
The science is clear: when people of different perspectives, backgrounds and experiences come together and have a chance to contribute, businesses and entire industries do better. Innovation, creativity and collaboration flourish. But the energy sector has a long way to go. Women, people of color, and other marginalized communities are underrepresented in energy jobs.
To grow the workforce in an equitable way, companies need specific steps to take. So we brought together 80 companies, affinity groups, startups and schools. Together, we determined that the key is to focus on four pillars: attraction, retention, culture and community. Each of these is much more than a “buzzword”. It requires complex work that we have undertaken together.
To attract a diverse workforce, energy companies need to take a long view and be unconventional in their approach. For far too long, our industry has failed to show the possible career paths people can take. We haven’t done enough to ensure that people have the needed skills, nor have we found a way to leverage talent across all areas of the energy sector. This is why even at a time of booming opportunity, so many jobs are unfilled.
Companies must invest in energy literacy, helping people understand where energy comes from, how it works and what it takes to provide the energy of the future. The industry also needs to present a value proposition — a clear explanation as to why people should want to join us. Our narrative needs to make clear why people in all communities can and should feel welcome in all kinds of energy jobs.
Retention is just as important. Women and minorities are more likely to drop out of STEM jobs because they don’t feel supported or are given fewer avenues for advancement. These talent losses happen every day, slowing down progress.
Creating workplace cultures that attract and retain is essential. In the MIT Sloan Management Review, I explained that the energy industry already has an approach for achieving this: making equity a value, not just a “priority.” The difference is not just semantic. When energy companies made safety a “value” in their work cultures, they implemented all sorts of crucial changes that save lives. Workplace safety improved rapidly. It’s time to do the same with DEI.
Finally, community is a necessity to make all this happen. We need to come together, share ideas, offer advice, and highlight opportunities to build skills or take on new roles. In this era of business, community is essential. We need to be allies for each other. That’s why I created ALLY Energy, and invite you and your company to join us.
Katie Mehnert is the CEO and Founder of ALLY Energy. She’s an Ambassador to the US Department of Energy on workforce and Representative to the National Petroleum Council. She regularly writes and speaks about energy workforce and policy and serves as an advisor to the Forward Party of Texas.