Technical talent is hotly sought after in many industries, especially with the more “exciting”-sounding high tech and digital segments attracting the bulk of skilled people away. And older industries with a more reserved image, like energy and engineering, face additional challenges hiring young people.
People Matters asked Joey Kwek, Senior Vice President, Human Resource & Corporate Services at Senoko Energy, Singapore's largest power generation company, what the competition for talent is like in the energy sector today and how they're attracting, and retaining, greatly needed young talent. Here's what she shared.
How does the talent landscape look in the energy sector? What's most in demand, and what is the competition for talent like?
Competition for talent is intense in technical roles, such as operations, mechanical and electrical engineering, particularly as young professionals in these fields consider the energy sector to be a 'sunsetting' segment. While it is competitive as a business, product differentiation is perceived to be limited and therefore, less attractive to new talent.
However, an influx of renewable technologies introduced in recent years, coupled with the liberalisation of energy markets and digitalisation, have resulted in a significant evolution of the industry and new recruits are given the opportunity to embark on a truly exciting journey of change. It has similarly resulted in a shift in the skillsets currently in demand. The types of jobs required in the energy sector are diversifying into digital and IT, and it is imperative that companies fill the talent shortage in this area as it is one of the biggest roadblocks hindering progress in an era of accelerating energy transition.
Could you share a bit about this digital diversification is affecting the demand for skills in the sector? What programmes do you have in place to upskill the workforce?
In tandem with the digitalisation of the sector, we are witnessing a greater demand for digital skills such as data science, big data analytics and cybersecurity. However, to meet current needs, it is not just about hiring new talent – we also need to consider how we upskill and prepare our existing workforce for future demands. To this end, we have introduced a series of programmes and initiatives to equip our workforce with the necessary technical and soft skills. Our structured on-the-job training system has been certified by the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) since 2009.
Senoko Energy has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Union of Power & Gas Employees to form a Company Training Committee (CTC). The CTC will review and make recommendations to the management team to build new competencies, close existing skills gaps, and enhance productivity through technical, adaptive and technological capabilities to realise our vision for the future.
You've mentioned the difficulty in attracting younger talent, and historically, engineering and adjacent-industry firms in Singapore have been hit by churn among fresh graduates who leave for banking and finance after just a few months. What works to deal with this challenge?
The energy sector can be difficult to understand for an industry outsider, making it less appealing for young graduates and professionals, especially in technical roles such as engineering. They tend to view jobs in the energy sector as backend and not as glamorous as roles in the banking and finance sector, which makes it a challenge for us to attract new talent. Increasingly, the younger workforce is also attracted to start-ups due to the perceived freedom, lack of hierarchy and emphasis on an innovative culture.
To directly address this misconception, we are implementing initiatives to build a better understanding and appreciation of the energy sector among the younger workforce. For instance, we are working closely with the government to support the Energy Industry Scholarship (EIS) and the Singapore-Industry Scholarship (SgIS). As part of these scholarships, students are given the opportunity to join us as an intern and develop a better understanding of the power sector before commencing their careers with Senoko Energy.
Working in the energy sector is akin to serving the nation, which is a calling our employees have often identified with, and we hope to bring this message across to light the ambitions of the younger generation.
As we continue our fight against COVID-19, we often commend our employees and others in the energy sector that they are as essential as any other frontline workers.
What approaches have you found that work to attract and retain younger talent? Have the expectations of this group changed over the years?
A company’s culture is at the core of employer branding and attracting new talent. What sets Senoko Energy apart is our culture of openness and dynamism, even as we remain family-centric at heart. We believe in teamwork and have built a strong culture that encourages cooperation and collaboration across the organisation.
In recent years, corporate social responsibility has become increasingly important for younger workers, and they often select where they work based on a company’s values.
In addition to our advocacy across sustainability and climate issues, we believe that helping those in need is the right thing to do as a responsible corporate citizen. Since July 2021, we adopted TOUCH Community Services’ TOUCH Young Arrow Centre at Sembawang, which takes care of about 20 children and youths from underprivileged families. As we kickstart this collaboration, we will be encouraging our employees to volunteer and most importantly, interact with and show their support for these children and youth so they know that they are not alone.
We also review market remuneration regularly to ensure we are competitive in rewarding our employees. We support internal rotation for employees should the opportunity arise, and to provide the needed training to equip them with the skills needed to excel in their role.
Could you share a bit about the programmes you have instituted at Senoko to keep younger talent in the workplace, and to bridge the gap between age groups in the workforce?
We have implemented a comprehensive Talent Management Programme geared towards nurturing young talents and bridging the gap between age groups within the organisation. Called Management Competency & Capability Programme, qualified employees are selected through a rigorous process and provided tailor-made learning programmes and development opportunities under the mentorship of our senior leaders to accelerate their growth.
We also introduced a structured programme where older employees are able to pass on their wealth of experience and knowledge to younger employees. Their knowledge across different aspects of their jobs, such as standard operating procedures, is documented and used as training manuals for new employees involved in plant operations. This process ensures that the valuable experience and best practices gained over the years will continue to benefit future employees.
In addition, we launched a “Learning Fiesta” campaign last year to encourage all employees to take ownership of their own learning and look for everyday opportunities to grow. Through this initiative, we also hope to encourage our younger employees to proactively learn from the wealth of knowledge and experience of their senior colleagues.