energy-skills

Achieving new greenhouse gas emissions standards requires new skill sets

Aug. 31, 2022
Peter Garforth wonders if energy training needs rethinking.

In a recent meeting with industrial energy management experts with decades of experience, the shift to transform operations to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions, was the clear priority for an increasing number of companies. Delivering this breakthrough will require concerted and sustained planning and implementation across all stationary and mobile facilities owned and controlled by the company worldwide.  

While the path will be different for each company, by the end of the transition, energy performance will be similar across many industries. Source energy efficiency is two to three times higher; scope one, two, and three greenhouse gas emissions are zero, and overall energy costs and energy-related risks support sustained competitiveness. The skills needed, now and in the future, to achieve this transformation are significantly different from in the past.  

A long-term plan to ensure the necessary skills are available with relevant content, at the appropriate time, and in the needed quantity should be a key part of the company’s overall energy planning. This plan must deal with the paradox that the skills needed to sustain the company’s current daily operations may not be those needed to drive the energy transition, making the targeting and timing of education a critical factor.

The transition to zero GHG calls for energy related priorities to be embedded in pretty much all major strategic, business, and investment decisions the company will make. This will call for much higher levels of energy and climate literacy in the company’s direct workforce, partners, and key stakeholders. Education must be tailored to their responsibilities and roles, within a common framework that drives a successful transition from the board to the technician on the production line.

As with all strategic corporate transformations, accountability and commitment must start at the top. In a corporate setting this means the board and the C-suite. The energy transition has economic, environmental, business opportunities, and risks, which must be planned for and managed. Arguably, one of the highest priority groups of “students” should be the directors and executive leaders. They must all have a clear and common understanding of the wider energy and climate context and the business imperatives to delivering on the company’s energy and climate goals. They will also need new tools to be able to drive and challenge the energy and climate impacts of all major decisions. They will also have a coherent and credible approach to managing external stakeholder expectations, including those of customers, investors, and shareholders.

A coherent understanding and skill set at the highest level sets the stage for creating relevant skills’ development programs across most, if not all, of the company’s functional areas. This achieves two basic outcomes. Employees that traditionally saw energy as a tangential part of their core responsibilities now have a clear understanding of their critical roles and accountabilities going forward. Those employees that manage today’s energy procurement and operational footprint will be empowered and equipped to plan and reconfigure deep changes in the company’s energy infrastructure.  

About the Author: Peter Garforth

The energy skills development must also ensure the ready availability of sufficient employees and contractors with new skills at the time they become needed. This creates the challenge, common in many transitions, of training current and future employees for jobs that do not exist today but will exist in significant quantities in the relatively near future. Timing and flexibility in training are key to avoid workforce shortfalls or oversupply.

Increasingly, the energy and climate goals of major companies include all emissions caused by their operations. These include areas where the company traditionally felt it had limited control.  In the future, minimizing the emissions from areas like sub-contractors’ operations, from external utilities or work-related employee travel, will be as comprehensively managed as any other GHG source. Again, this creates new accountability and the demand for new skills.

There should be no illusion that decarbonising most industrial sectors will be enormously challenging. It will probably need a new and creative coalition of players to achieve. Companies with major facilities in or near cities may have possible collaborative pathways to accelerate both their, and their host city’s, emissions. For this to work, the potential collaborator will need new energy and climate skills. Collaboration with customers and even competitors will probably also be on the table. Should education of external collaborators be part of the company’s training plan?

Today, the sustainability or energy manager is all too often challenged with breakthrough energy and climate aspirations and asked to deliver in a context where most of his or her colleagues are unaware of the role they could and should be playing. This must change, and it can only change with a structured and sustained skills development plan. Creating this plan will call not only for energy and climate understanding, but also training, workforce development, and stakeholder education and engagement expertise.

Maybe the missing members on the energy and climate planning and implementation teams are to be found in human resources and alliances with educational institutions.

This story originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

Energy Expert

This article is part of our monthly Energy Expert column. Read more from Peter Garforth.