Now comes the hard part: convincing customers, investors, and regulators of the virtues of green hydrogen in tandem with or instead of other clean or renewable energy alternatives. “The winners in the hydrogen market will be those who can orchestrate the ecosystem,” says Mark Insch, a senior client partner specializing in the energy, utilities, and renewables sectors at Korn Ferry.
Put another way, partnerships will be critical to the development of the market. Cepsa, which is developing one of the largest green hydrogen hubs in Europe, has announced partnerships with several companies on the $3.5 billion project in southern Spain, including with Portuguese electricity company EDP and Spanish fertilizer manufacturer Fertiberia. Cepsa also has an agreement with the Port of Rotterdam to create a green hydrogen corridor between southern and northern Europe, meaning that green hydrogen produced competitively in Spain can be used to decarbonize industry and heavy transport in the North.
Insch notes that energy companies need talent that can bring together production, storage, distribution, generators, and other parts of the value chain all the way to the consumer. “It is a much more co-dependent situation, with more parties involved in more partnerships,” says Insch.
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But the future of green hydrogen doesn’t rest on current demand—it hinges on creating more demand. Doing that requires leaders who can transform not just a business, but an entire industry. It won’t be easy. “Transitioning to a new business model must be balanced with profits and returns to investors, and rare is the leader who can simultaneously perform and transform,” says Raffaello Raimondi, a senior client partner in the global industrial market practice at Korn Ferry specializing in energy and natural resources.
In fact, Korn Ferry studied the profiles of more than 150,000 leaders and interviewed hundreds of investors to identify the traits needed to successfully lead in a constantly changing environment. The research uncovered five key skills: the ability to anticipate, drive, accelerate, partner, and trust. The bad news: only 15% of today’s leaders possess all five qualities of what Korn Ferry coined as the “self-disruptive leader.”
Marco Alvera, author of “The Hydrogen Revolution,” is one of those rare leaders. After more than 20 years working inside big energy companies in Italy, including as CEO of energy infrastructure company Snam, Alvera left last year to co-found renewable energy company Zhero and lead green hydrogen company Tree Energy Solutions as CEO. “If you have transformational ambitions as a leader, you have to pull yourself out of your comfort zone,” says Alvera, whose company is currently building Europe’s largest hydrogen import terminal in Germany. Alvera says the challenge with the energy transition is that historically the industry doesn’t attract many entrepreneurs. “We need a west coast, Silicon Valley mentality to make this work,” he says. “We need more people starting similar companies.”
But the industry’s talent problem isn’t just limited to leaders. As Wetselaar notes, the industry needs technical and commercial talent who can have a sophisticated conversation with a shipping customer that has been using diesel fuel for decades about the efficiency and, more importantly, profitability of transitioning to green hydrogen. Moreover, the energy sector isn’t immune to the labor shortages impacting other industries. Retention rates have been on the decline since the pandemic, as companies poach scarce talent with clean or renewable energy experience from each other. At the same time, engineers and other specialists have more options outside of the energy industry. As a result, energy leaders Korn Ferry spoke with are emphasizing a combination of training and upskilling their current workforce with going outside of the industry to recruit new talent.
The chance to participate in a clean energy future is attracting younger people to the energy industry. According to a study by the Center for Energy Workforce Development, 32% of energy workers are millennials, for instance. Worldwide employment in the clean and renewable energy sector grew by 700,000 positions last year to total just under 13 million. The combination of wide open career opportunities and a clearly articulated purpose to improve the planet position companies involved in the energy transition to bring an entirely new generation into the field. “The best-selling point we have for why people join us is because they believe in what we are doing,” says First Mode’s Soles. “There’s a huge amount of interest in our commercialization journey.”
For more information, contact Mark Insch at firstname.lastname@example.org, David Joseph at email@example.com, John Mensah at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Raffaello Raimondi at email@example.com.