Time is ticking. The United Nations (UN) has called on organizations around the world to significantly reduce emissions by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050. So, how is your business progressing?

Companies are saying the right things about cutting emissions and investing in clean technology. But right now, with only six years to go until the first target, many are far off hitting these goals. Leaders need a way to accelerate the net-zero agenda, and the world needs them to be equipped now.

One way to tackle the issue is to find and keep people with the skills to lower carbon emissions for good. Organizations need to build a net-zero workforce for the future, and they can’t afford to delay.

Our experts explore how you can start building your team today.

What is a Net-Zero Workforce?

A net-zero workforce typically consists of employees who possess green skills and have experience in decarbonization. Their purpose is to develop and implement sustainability strategies that offer low-emission and clean technology solutions, with the aim of helping organizations achieve their net-zero energy goals.

For organizations striving to reach net zero, almost any role in the company can, and if possible should, have a green element—from sustainable procurement to communications. It’s not just employers in the energy sector who need to build green energy teams.

And yet, there’s a problem. Since 2019, the hiring rate of green talent has overtaken the rate of hiring overall. That might sound like good news for the environment, but according to a global study which analyzed trends in workforce and sustainability, a green skills shortage is coming for companies.

Demand for green skills is soon set to outpace supply. So how can organizations go about hiring and developing the teams they’ll need?

It Takes Vision From the Top

Wherever your organization is on its journey towards net-zero emissions, the kind of leaders you have will affect how well you motivate your current teams, how you attract talent and, crucially, how you retain your best people.

Robert Craig, Senior Client Partner and Leader in Korn Ferry’s Renewables and Clean Tech Practice, says: “You’ve got to find ways to engage and create a purpose and align everyone to that overriding objective, so they feel part of the organization. That’s what’s missing in some larger companies.”

According to Craig, many businesses today are at the “prove it” stage. They’ve made all the right green commitments, but can they act on them? Or they’ve prototyped the clean tech, but can they scale it? He warns that those who can’t live up to their promises will struggle to hold onto their talent.

Korn Ferry Senior Client Partner in Sustainability, Cheryl D’Cruz-Young, agrees. “Businesses who acted due to investor pressure but failed to align their sustainability and business strategies have begun to waver in their commitments in the last year. If they hired individuals motivated by that promise, those employees will likely depart for more authentic organizations. Our KFI data consistently shows that both Gen Y and Gen Z align their personal values with their work values.” 

More optimistically, there are a great many leaders who are actively building strong net-zero workforces. And these leaders typically fit Korn Ferry’s Enterprise Leader framework, with the skills and experience to simultaneously perform and transform. “They are comfortable with change, comfortable with evolution after evolution—because change is not slowing down,” says Pablo Golfari, Korn Ferry’s Industrial Practice Market Leader.

Such Enterprise Leaders are inclusive too, welcoming naysayers and robust discussion. They’re rethinking the structure of their organizations to make it easier for people in any role and at any level to contribute, increasing engagement and enabling them to accelerate performance and progress their career.

You Need Motivated Managers in the Middle

Leaders can’t—and shouldn’t—do it all. In fact, rather than seeing your organization’s transition to net zero as a top-down change, Golfari says it’s most effective when it comes from the middle up. Not least because the earlier managers are in their careers, the more time they’ll have to see the benefits that come from taking the business to net zero. 

“Mid-level folks are really the answer,” he says. “They will see the largest impact from the work they’re going to be doing in driving net zero within every enterprise.”

Many of the World’s Most Admired Companies think middle-up too. Our ESG research found that most businesses had senior owners for their Sustainability & ESG plans, such as a Chief Sustainability Officer. But they also had a higher percentage of middle managers who were ready to turn challenges into tangible actions by taking ownership of the enterprise-wide implementation. 

One way to develop these middle managers is to give them ownership over the net-zero project. Craig suggests that rather than moving managers into renewables divisions that can feel like a small part of the business, “make [those divisions] stand-alone. If you look back, technology innovation has mostly come from stand-alone smaller companies that were set up to succeed in that way.” Larger companies who run their green projects like discrete businesses are more likely to see success too.

Giving junior and middle managers more accountability will motivate them to develop their net-zero skills faster, to work more collaboratively across the enterprise and boost their engagement in the business too.

ESG & Sustainability

For a sustainable future, you must change for good

Be Ready to Welcome a New Generation of Climate Activists 

Our research shows that over half of millennials consider themselves climate activists and 65% of Gen Z would contemplate changing careers for a sustainability-focused role. Though the youngest of this cohort is new to the workforce, if they’re ready to learn and are committed to an organization’s purpose, they could be just the candidates you need to assist in solving the most complex and critical issues of our era. 

The challenge, however, can be in attracting talent in the first place—particularly if you’re a traditional player in the energy industry with sustainability credentials to prove. 

“The Oil & Gas industry broadly has been finding it tough to attract entry level talent in recent years, which is a problem given that the energy transition will take time,” notes D’Cruz-Young. “They used to be able to entice the best and brightest, but this population has demonstrated their interest is in renewables and clean tech. That’s where they want to dedicate their time.” 

In this case, our experts recommend that career architectures can be helpful —as long as leaders are honest about progression plans. If your Gen Z new starters must spend time working in other parts of the business, be transparent, then show them their pathway into renewable energy roles, especially if that is the future trajectory of your business.  

Do that and stay true to your net-zero purpose, and you’ll retain the talent while building the green skillsets required in the business for longer, our experts advise. 

If You’re Struggling to Hire, Acquire 

With inclusive enterprise leaders, empowered middle managers and engaged new starters on hand, most businesses can start developing the net-zero skills they need in-house. 

But if you’re looking to build skills fast, acquiring a renewables company, new technology solutions or a clean tech disruptor that already has them could be the answer. Major oil companies are continuing to invest heavily in renewable energy projects. In 2011, Total bought a 60% stake in a solar farm. In 2017, BP bought a 43% stake in a solar power developer. And in the same year, Shell bought one of Europe’s largest electric vehicle charging companies. 

Do You Have the Team to Take You to Net Zero? 

Having the right people in the right roles is essential to achieving your organization’s goals. Hiring green talent today can help accelerate your net-zero targets of tomorrow.

Korn Ferry’s recruitment services team can identify the skills gaps within your organization and design a talent strategy that will transform your business for the future. Get in touch to find out more today.