Anyone want a job in clean energy?

Money keeps pouring into clean energy sector businesses - but there aren't enough people to run them...

Last Updated: 23 Mar 2011

Recruiting senior level executives is becoming a major obstacle to the development of the clean energy sector, according to a survey by head-hunter Heidrick & Struggles and research firm New Energy Finance. Nearly 40% of respondents said recruitment was now a ‘very serious’ challenge, while a further 59% said the situation was ‘moderately serious’. That leaves just 4% who either think things are fine as they are, or perhaps just didn’t understand the question.

The dearth is largely due to the industry’s rapid expansion in recent years – according to New Energy Finance, global investment in specialist clean energy businesses last year hit nearly $150bn, a 60% increase on the previous year. And with governments around the world lining up to offer their backing for this voter-friendly sector, companies are no longer worried about regulatory issues – they’re worried about finding the senior-level people with the necessary expertise to develop their business.

According to the survey, the hardest role to fill is apparently the chief technical officer – presumably because there are so few scientists out there with the right experience. Hiring a CEO was rated as only marginally less difficult, while senior project managers are also apparently pretty tough to find. Already firms are having to draw over two-thirds of their staff from outside the sector – often from traditional energy firms, although some are joining from other hi-tech industries instead (even if these people won’t know what they’re talking about, at least they should be used to it…)

Given the industry’s relative youth and rapid growth, it’s not exactly surprising that it’s running into recruitment problems. After all, there aren’t going to be dozens of senior people with the right experience available because the industry just hasn’t been around for long enough – and most of the companies in the sector are still pretty small, so it’s not easy for them to attract big-hitters from elsewhere.

But the problem is, they might never develop into big companies unless they have some top-notch leaders at the helm, with the ability to turn a niche clean energy business into a global energy player – at which point attraction and recruitment will get a whole lot easier. Until it can build that kind of scale, it will remain in this awkward in-between stage.

Still, at a time when the City is feeling the squeeze from the credit crunch, there is clearly a good-news message contained in this research: if you’re a senior manager, you’ll almost certainly be able to get a job in biofuels if the worst comes to the worst...

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