Dearth of green talent gives India Inc the blues

But there is one big hurdle she faces in moving towards that goal. “We have tried to hire employees with experience in the retail and sustainability space but there is no one. So, we have now resorted to seeing if we can follow what global retailers do,” she said, explaining why she spends her non-work hours poring over such reports.

Derek M Shah, senior vice president at Larsen & Toubro Ltd (L&T), and head of green manufacturing and development, can empathize with her on the struggle to find the right talent, and retain it.

“On the 30th, I’m losing three of my best guys,” he told Mint back in May. L&T, one of the leaders in the green energy space, is a popular hunting ground for rivals and startups. On its part, the company has been scouting for talent from European and American firms willing to shift to India and be co-authors of the country’s green energy script.

In recent years, India Inc has taken up a number of green energy projects. However, with a dearth of experienced hands to step into the unique roles demanded by the sector, the likes of L&T, Tata Power, ReNew and Vedanta Group are turning to global talent while also losing some of their best to startups and rival conglomerates.

Industry estimates suggest that India’s renewable energy sector has the potential to create employment for 1 million people by 2030. Job portals have started looking into the rising demand for green energy specialists., a global climate career platform founded in 2020, has amassed a database of over 30,000 climate-related knowledge jobs.

So, what kind of jobs are on offer exactly? The green and renewable energy sector needs people in leadership positions who understand the importance of environmental, social and governance (ESG) business and how it can impact revenues and brands.

Lower down, it needs project managers who have worked in allied industries such as thermal and solar plants, electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing plants and so on. As companies move from oil and gas to areas like green hydrogen, green ammonia, green methanol and electrolyte manufacturing, they need skilled workers who know how to control hydrogen in a certain temperature, electrochemistry experts and those who can draw up blueprints and strategize road maps. Shah explained that L&T has been focusing on getting experts in electrochemistry. In addition, the company has been recruiting people who have worked in electronics and instrumentation roles.

These companies also need sales and marketing teams that understand the sector. Moreover, there is a need for experts who understand how to maintain clean manufacturing units, much like the pharma industry — the workforce has to operate plants in an environment where even a speck of dirt can ruin batteries or clean energy pipelines.

“The supply of adequately trained manpower falls short of the demand, creating a bottleneck for Indian renewable energy companies….This talent crunch underscores the critical importance of investing in robust training programmes and learning/ skilling initiatives to bridge the skills gap and ensure the continued growth and success of the renewable and green energy sector,” said Himal Tewari, chief human resources officer, head CSR and sustainability, Tata Power.

How it began

It all started with the Paris Agreement in 2015, when global governments decided on a legally binding target to limit the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100, with an optimistic aspiration to keep it below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

India has set a long-term goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2070, and conglomerates are scrambling to reduce their carbon footprints.

For instance, Reliance Industries Ltd aims to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2035 and has chalked out a blueprint to improve its energy emissions, waste management and renewable energy initiatives.

“Within one year, the renewable energy consumption at Reliance jumped by 352%. I feel confident that such initiatives, coupled with the transition to renewable power for our O2C (oil to chemical) assets, will accelerate our journey to become net-carbon zero,” chairman Mukesh Ambani had said last August while announcing that Reliance Industries will build one of the world’s largest carbon fibre plants at Hazira, Gujarat.

L&T has formed a Green Energy Council, a think-tank comprising of eminent thought leaders, in a significant step towards building a global green energy business. According to a statement issued by the company in May, the council will be responsible for identifying technology trends in green energy, analysing evolving global policy developments, evaluating emerging business models and advising on collaborations.

The think tank includes Eicke R. Weber, who serves as the co-president of the European Solar Manufacturing Council; Bart Biebuyck, an expert in the green hydrogen economy; Christopher Hebling, director of hydrogen technologies at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE; and Patrice Simon, an expert in the field of electrochemical materials.

The ESG imperative

Renewable and green energy has gained more importance in the wake of ESG becoming a key issue even in developing countries, including India. The power, steel, cement, and agriculture sectors account for approximately 70% of India’s carbon emissions.

According to a study by consulting and audit firm Deloitte, called ‘ESG preparedness survey report’, a “robust” ESG strategy requires a workforce dedicated to ESG matters, headed by a chief sustainability officer, with oversight from the board and the relevant ESG and climate risk committees.

“Several businesses are reskilling and upskilling their workforce, while others are relying on external consultants for project-based or part-time support. The skill gap, however, is expected to significantly reduce in the future with an increasing number of sustainability courses and certification mechanisms being incorporated within the human capital function of organizations,” said the report, which was released in May.

The report highlighted that only 27% of businesses are well-prepared to meet ESG requirements and that less than half (49%) are fully aware of ESG reporting mechanisms and regulations in India.

“The leadership has to drive the change. From millennials to rating agencies, all want to know what a firm is doing for its carbon footprint and hence the rush to get skillsets across profiles,” said Viral Thakker, partner and sustainability leader, Deloitte India.

Integrated approach

Vaishali Nigam Sinha, co-founder and chairperson, sustainability, at ReNew, a renewable energy company, told Mint that the requirement for skilled talent in India’s renewable and green energy sector is significant, given the country’s ambitious goals of achieving 500 gigawatt (GW) from renewables by 2030.

“Though challenging, achieving these numbers would require the government and companies to be innovative in their strategies to identify, nurture, and retain talent. The current challenge towards meeting these targets can be attributed to the clean energy sector being relatively new, with limited awareness and understanding of its intricacies,” she said.

Consultants do not look at the push to go green as a binary goal where a target is given and one can strategize the way to reach it. They say there is a need for an integrated approach, where both the private and public sector work in tandem.

“Government policies need to work aggressively in skill development and the private sector cannot do it alone without an enabling environment being created and/or supported by the government,” said Anish De, global head for energy natural resources and chemicals, KPMG in India.

Scaling clean energy up on the lines envisioned in public policy is a huge challenge. Many key technologies are new and evolving. India lacks manufacturing capacities for electrolysers and batteries, and the whole ecosystem needs to come together, De added.

The capital expenditure on new energy is high while the operational expenditure is low. The risks are different and not many can assess the investment strategy. “They (those who lack experience) use generic capabilities and have to compromise, which, in turn, leads to sub-optimal outcomes,” said De.

In his discussions with clients, De noticed a big part of the challenges occur where promoter-driven businesses venture into technologically complex areas without prior experience. While the entrepreneurial zeal is commendable and indeed necessary, some inevitably face difficulties.

“Some of the entrepreneurs recognize these challenges and seek support to transform their organizations, while these new and complex businesses are getting built. These will typically be two-three-year journeys,” De told Mint.

Grooming talent

Education institutes have started training the next generation of experts and companies are tying up with them for a better industry interface. But there is still a lot to be done. “Our educational institutions are yet to align with the requirements of the renewable industry, and with rapidly changing technology, there is a pressing need to update the curricula as per industry standards,” said ReNew’s Sinha.

The company runs a global internship programme and has tie-ups with management and engineering colleges.

“In a bid to address the talent deficit in the clean energy sector in India, which is also adversely affecting ReNew as a company, we have opened a training academy in New Delhi. This will allow the company to get trained workforce,” Sinha added.

ReNew aims to double its headcount to over 5,000. It has an operational capacity of around eight GW, one of the largest in the sector, and it is setting up another six GW of renewable projects in the next two years.

Some are forging alliances with colleges for research work. L&T inked a pact with the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay in 2022 to jointly pursue research and development work in the green hydrogen value chain. Tata Power Skill Development Institute, launched in February 2015, has trained approximately 2,500 individuals for green energy jobs, with plans to scale up that number to around 5,000 by 2025.

“We are not ready yet. The courses at the National Power Training Institutes need to come up with the latest in renewable and green energy. Students still prefer the traditional energy courses because they are not aware and get trained in old ways,” said Praveen Purohit, deputy chief HR officer at energy company Vedanta Group. Purohit said the need is to have a separate institute but he was unsure on whether it should be a government or private backed one.

Global phenomenon

Interestingly, the hunt for talent in this sector is not an India problem alone but a global challenge. De said that during a recent trip to Australia, he found that clients there faced similar problems finding skilled hands.

According to a senior executive heading the sustainability team at an energy company, Europe, especially the Nordic region, South Korea, Japan and some regions in America have companies that specialize in alternative forms of energy. A wide net is being cast in the hunt for talent there. “The candidate has to be wooed not just by compensation but also growth prospects and told in great detail why green energy is important for the company’s business. This is because the candidate will have counter-offers from other companies,” said the executive.

Companies are targeting Indian expats who are working in new-age firms and are keen to work on parallel projects in India. The executive said it is often easier to make Indians homeward bound so that they can be part of a larger growth story. “There are discussions on severance clauses, many rounds of negotiations. And after all that, a smaller startup may just poach within a year by doubling the salary,” he added.

The renewable sector may be a sunrise sector, but companies in the area are expanding rapidly. This may be a great time for individuals looking to build a career in the industry, but for companies struggling to fill key roles across the board, the road ahead is long.

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Updated: 26 Jun 2023, 10:49 PM IST

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