Global Energy Transition and the Future World of Work

03 Aug 2020
Succulent growing inside a lightbulb

The effects of global energy transition has an impact on talent required in the future world of work.

03 Aug 2020


Op-Ed: Brenda Martin, UCT Careers Service Director
Photo: Supplied

The Global energy transition is affecting every aspect of energy production, distribution and consumption. These effects all have an implication for the world of work and in particular, for the talent required now and into the future.

The Energy market is diverse and complex, ranging from small-scale start-ups servicing household needs to national and global utilities servicing industrial needs. Energy transition generally refers to the transition away from traditional fuels (usually fossil fuels) towards a greater share of renewable fuels (most commonly solar and wind).

An approach to energy transition which balances the interests of people, environment and economy also known as Just Energy transition, can ensure that a net positive outcome is achieved in all three areas.

Relevant to Careers and work, there are many emerging opportunities. New roles linked to innovation and change are to be found in technical shifts linked to sector coupling, smart infrastructure, mobility, traffic flow optimization, intelligent hospitals and factories, cyber security and more.

Beyond the technical, new opportunities are emerging for women and youth interested in policy reform, system and consumer adaptation and managing social, economic and environmental aspects along the related supply and value chains. In order to successfully achieve the transition new public sector needs will grow, such as integrated policy design, public engagement and awareness.

Before Energy transitions became as common as they are today, the International Labour Organisation provided insight into a range of low, medium and high skilled occupations across the renewable energy value chains including cross-cutting and enabling positions[1]. More recently the US Department of Energy’s office of Renewable energy and energy efficiency has developed an interactive career resource which includes career maps, suggests related training and skills development pathways and provides links to understanding a variety of new clean energy sector occupations[2].

It has been my experience that a career pathway associated with Energy transition is generally non-linear. This is mainly due to the fact that the field is still quite new – relative to the lifespan of the Energy sector which kicked into high gear with Industrialisation at the turn of the 18th century. The non-linear pathway is also due to the complexity of what is involved in achieving energy transition and what is required to usefully contribute to its realisation.

Perspectives on social justice, sustainable economics and engineering, ethical business and finance, geography, gender, biology, environmental sciences, climate change and law are all required to ensure adequate systems thinking is applied in planning for and realising energy transition. Skills in spotting cross-sectoral linkages, community engagement, sustainable mergers and acquisitions, business management and governance are all required.

And then there is the fact that energy transitions are occurring at the same time as many other areas of rapid evolution in the finance, technology and business sectors. Fundamental to all of this of course, earth systems themselves are undergoing transition.

The related talent (education, skills and competencies) required is massive and continues to evolve. Taken together with the massive potential associated with Entrepreneurship, a vast spectrum of new Career opportunities becomes visible. In future articles I will expand on these.

*This short article was inspired by and drew on findings of the GWNET report on Strategies to Foster Women’s Talent for Transformational Change, published in Q1, 2020

[1] ILO, Occupational and skill needs in renewable energy: final report. Geneva, 2011.

[2] See