How is the renewable energy market changing and evolving this year? We interviewed our Managing Partner Jon Semingson and Director of Recruiting Sarah Petersen who have 25 years of combined experience in renewables recruiting.
- How do you foresee engineering, project management, and interconnection specialties evolving?
SP: These areas are evolving rapidly across the board due to volume and growth. I would say that with the increase in energy storage applications for all of our projects now, energy storage is not just going to be something we’re gonna see here and there.
This is something that we’re gonna see pretty much full stream all throughout the portfolios for our clients. And so most of our clients are looking for those individuals who have worked with interconnection issues when it comes to including energy storage in their applications in or into their projects. Also, just project managers and engineers that have had any experience at all with energy storage.
JS: So specialized skillsets in engineering, interconnection engineering, and project management within development shops for large utility-scale solar and storage projects are gonna continue to evolve. The reality is we don’t have enough talent in the market to execute all of the projects that are currently in the pipeline.
So as developers continue to fight over a relatively small number of candidates in the market, We’re going to see a lot of third-party engineering firms, and another outsourcing of some of these really specific responsibilities as organizations just have to get the work done.
- What do you see as the most important skills for these positions in 2023?
SP: Right now, our clients are looking for individuals that have direct experience with either large portfolios of national commercial projects, behind-the-meter projects, or large utility-scale projects. So what we’re seeing is a demand for engineers and project managers that can show engineers and project managers that have worked on these projects from start to completion and can show a strong portfolio of experience.
JS: Obviously, having experience executing large-scale projects and seeing them from beginning to end is gonna be the most valuable experience for anybody looking to make a career change in the utility-scale market.
Short of that certainly coming from large, complex, distributed generation projects can be transferable. Community solar is also incredibly transferable. But I think organizations in particular are gonna have to be a little more flexible about the skillsets and requirements that they’re looking for if they’re gonna be able to execute on all of the projects that exist.
- What type of qualifications and experience do you believe will give an individual the best chance for success in these roles?
SP: We are letting our clients know on a regular basis that training is necessary. We’re seeing increased demand and need for individuals with three to five years of experience or more with these direct relationships in commercial and utility-scale projects. The problem is we don’t have enough talent to fill that need right now.
So we’re talking to our clients regularly about the need to bring in individuals that maybe don’t have that exact experience. Maybe they haven’t had the ability to work on a large portfolio with a national platform. Let’s train them. Let’s give them the skills that they need to take it to the next level.
JS: This is gonna continue to be a challenge for the next couple of years, and there’s no easy answer. Smaller shops are gonna have a harder time because they just don’t have the depth of a bench and the ability to bring on as many junior folks. And they typically need individuals that can come in and hit the ground running in order to find them.
You gotta take ’em away from a competitor and usually pay them very well to do it. Some of the larger shops and some of the folks that I see do this better than others, they almost take a baseball farm system approach. They’re bringing in junior-level individuals, they’re training them up over time.
They know that some of them might leave and others are gonna stay, so they always have more people coming up that they’re hiring and bringing in and training to grow in the organization. And if you have the ability to do that and to be able to be looking out two to three years of what your headcount needs are gonna look like, and then hire folks to be able to train them and have them ready at that point in time. That’s the best scenario.
- How can organizations make sure that their teams have the skills and abilities needed to succeed in 2023 and beyond?
SP: Clients that we’re working with that are successful in hiring right now are able to execute quickly, and that’s the biggest thing we’re seeing is that they can go through a process in a timely fashion, that they can give direct and important feedback to us so that we can relay it to the candidates in real-time, and then coming in and making a strong offer. That’s how we are seeing things get done.
JS: There are a few ways that employers can approach this. Number one is to always be on the lookout and do not wait until you have an urgent need to begin your recruiting process. You should always be talking to individuals in the market.
You should always be reaching out to folks who are in the industry who might be a fit for a role in the future so that when the opportunity does arrive, you already have relationships built with some people who might be a good fit. If you wait until there’s an opening and it’s already critical and you need someone on board in six weeks, it’s gonna be very, very painful.
- Do you expect the demand for engineers and project managers to increase or decrease in the next few years?
SP: Increase. Absolutely. We’re still seeing a huge demand from our clients. They’re constantly needing to train and hire new individuals for current pipelines and projected pipelines, both behind the meter and utility space, we don’t see that slowing down any anytime soon.
JS: With all of the growth that we’ve seen in the industry over the last two years, coupled with the incentives that are now in the inflation reduction act, the need for project management and engineering talent is gonna be even more pronounced over the next couple of years. This problem is not gonna go away.
- What sort of challenges do you foresee for 2023 in these areas?
JS: There’s gonna be several areas of challenges. We’ve already seen a couple of instances where some of the largest EPCs in the countries have been at capacity in terms of their ability to execute on projects. If we get to the point where labor is really the linchpin that’s holding back our ability to deploy more clean energy infrastructure, we’re all gonna feel the pain.
It’s going to be the project management talent to be able to manage the EPCs and the overall development process, and then just engineering horsepower to be able to do the design, the development, get these things through interconnection studies at almost every point in the development process, we have areas where a lack of talent can really cause significant issues for the industry as we continue to.
- Are there any key predictions or takeaways that you would like to share about the engineering/project management/interconnection field?
SP: Just the need for talent. We just have a lack of individuals in the workforce that have this exact skillset, so we’re still gonna be looking for how we can bring these other individuals in that have other experience that is. Relevant, but maybe not exactly identical to what we’re looking for in the market.
How can we train, how can we onboard, and how can we be successful in getting more individuals into the solar industry? I think that’s still gonna be our biggest concern moving forward.
JS: So in terms of predictions, I think it’s obvious that the demand and the need for talent in these areas are only going to increase because there’s more demand for talent than there is a supply of individuals with the experience needed. Naturally, salaries are gonna continue to go up. I do think they’re going to slow down a little bit in terms of wage growth.
We’ve seen some dramatic wage growth over the last two years with inflation and everything else going on, and we’re starting to see that plateau a little bit. But it’s not gonna get any less expensive to hire really good people and it’s not gonna get any easier to find the talent you need and the number of people with the experience that we’re looking for in engineering project management, interconnection, project development.
If you would like more information about us or you’d like to ask us a question, email us at Jon@inpeakdemand.com. Make sure to check out our other blogs on the website.