A Year of Oil and Gas Decline is a Boon for Grid Edge Hiring

Recently, Royal Dutch Shell announced 10,000 job cuts worldwide. It’s just one more blow the oil and gas industry has taken over the past year from lower than anticipated oil prices. Analysts expect 250,000 jobs to have been shed worldwide in 2015 and more in 2016.

“It is certain that job losses have continued,” says Texas economist Karr Ingham.  “We now appear to be well beyond that [initial] estimate — and the end is not is sight.”

While lower oil prices are not an incentive for consumers to purchase vehicles with higher fuel efficiency, this disruption in the oil and gas markets may benefit the cleantech economy. With sectors like smart grid and grid edge seeing a hiring crunch for top talent, we see this as the perfect time for clean energy companies to poach high performing candidates from the fossil fuel industry.

“If you’re someone who’s been here five years and all you’ve seen is boom, this is hard to swallow,” Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research for the Greater Houston Partnership told the Houston Chronicle. “If you’ve been here 25 years, this is your third or fourth rodeo.”

The oil and gas markets have always been cyclical, with supply and demand constantly outpacing each other in a dance of volatile fuel prices. Professionals working in these sectors are prepared for the ups and downs of hiring that go along with these cycles and in the past many have been content to ride the waves. However, the clean energy and grid edge markets of the cleantech industry have never been as robust as they are now in the present downturn. The clean energy growth trajectory has never seemed as promising. This has savvy oil and gas technology professionals looking towards clean technology as a legitimate career possibility.

Just as the electricity industry has been going through a digital transformation, technology is also reshaping the oil and gas sectors. As a result, the process of selling technology products and services closely mirrors selling to electrical utilities and Fortune 100 companies. We’ve found this makes the transition from selling technology to oil and gas markets to selling technology to utility markets can be surprisingly smooth.

Beyond the satisfaction a cleantech executive might feel at poaching ‘A Players’ from the “Dark Side” of the energy industry, candidates from this sector possess the same level of expertise many clean energy companies are demanding from new upper-level management hires. It’s these high expectations of experience and a proven track-record that have been squeezing the current candidate pool for grid edge and smart grid companies, driving up hiring costs and lengthening search timelines.

What makes these candidates compelling for the emerging grid edge and smart grid markets, is that they have first-hand experience selling into an adjacent and highly regulated industry. Similarities include sales cycles, deal sizes and complexity as well as regulatory challenges.

While much of the Oil and Gas industry is centered in southwest states of Texas and Oklahoma, it’s not unusual to meet a top candidate in this industry who is willing to relocate, especially in this current downturn. Even if a candidate is reluctant to move their family to a new area of the country, energy hubs such as Houston are also transportation hubs. People living here have immediate airport access to a wide variety of metropolitan areas in the U.S., making it easy to meet with customers.

On the compensation side of the equation, on average, energy jobs in Houston pay about $200,000 per year with benefits and other perks. While clean energy and grid edge companies may struggle to swallow such a price tag for middle management, top oil and gas candidates are attracted to the emerging sector for more than just money. We find that top talent wants to be on the leading edge of the energy industry. For many that means working within sectors that bring greater efficiency and cleaner technologies into the energy sector. These top performers are natural pioneers and find themselves excited at the prospect of building new markets, bringing greater energy innovation to the utility grid, and facilitating stronger energy resiliency around the world.

By taking the time to understand both the material and psychological factors that motivate oil and gas ‘A Players’, clean energy and grid edge companies can attract some of the most experienced and well-connected energy executives in the world to their teams. The skills and experience these candidates possess are not only highly transferable, they are giving savvy cleantech companies the advantage in the race for market share.

Chicago’s Clean Tech Syndicate is helping many oil and gas billionaires diversify their financial interests in fossil fuel investments. By including investments in cleantech, emerging companies in smart grid, solar, electric vehicles, and other grid edge sectors which have the opportunity to diversify the oil and gas workforce. Such cross-pollination could benefit both sides of the energy sector, while driving the trend to a low-carbon footprint economy.