Setting the scene

The world is changing. Customer expectations are evolving, and employee expectations are aligning. People expect brands to take more responsibility for their place in the world. And if you’re not showing a positive contribution, then you’re contributing to the problem. There is no industry where this is truer than the energy sector, where no brand can escape assessment.

Black to green – Compare and contrast

The need to move from black (non-renewable, fossil fuels) to green (renewable energy) is recognized by most, but especially Generation Z, who we saw take an increasingly active role in the conversation in 2019. But in reality, progress is facing barriers. Macro factors such as a volatile economic climate, oil price fluctuations, political instability and Covid-19 are all contributing to these barriers. And for every black-energy behemoth trying to turn the tanker around, a raft of new green-energy start-ups are joining the fight.

The perceptions of green and black energy are contrasting. In our recent research, we learned that 20 to 25-year-old potential employees viewed black energy as ‘damaging to the environment,’ questioning its ethics and tending to regard it as a ’necessary evil.’ On the other hand, green energy is seen as ‘on the cutting edge of innovation,’ ‘giving back to the local community’ and ‘environmentally friendly.’ Interestingly, however, green energy also lacks perceived prestige. Many respondents have very little understanding or visibility of what is or will be entailed with working on either side of the industry.

A house divided

We asked 1,250 students and graduates across North America and Europe to rank industries by preference when applying for future careers. Young people explicitly reject black energy, ranking it bottom of all options, but despite the aspiration surrounding a green, fossil-free future, more than half of all young people rejected any career in the energy sector – including renewable energy.

The contradictions within both sides of the energy industry leave graduates feeling that a future role in the energy industry will be less rewarding, less exciting or less stable than other careers. Furthermore, whereas positions within green energy are seen to be incredibly important, young talent felt personally unqualified and worried about the stress involved.

The perceptions of both black and green energy are driving talent away from the industry, depriving it of innovation and broad perspectives from a diverse workforce. Young people feel they are either being asked to take the weight of the energy crisis squarely on their shoulders, a burden too heavy to bear or join companies that are at odds with their personal values.

So what’s the answer?

The importance of the energy industry is clear to the majority of respondents. When brands recognize the challenges they face in recruiting talent and connect meaningfully with potential recruits, it is possible to reframe a career in energy as a positive challenge.

For example, before 2014, DONG Energy was known for being a Scandinavian state-funded oil and natural gas operator. It was one of Europe’s biggest polluters, with an incredibly diverse portfolio of energy interests. But from 2014, DONG Energy made significant changes to its business.

DONG Energy began a major restructuring plan, decommissioning and divesting ownership of oil and natural gas assets. It was guided by a vision of creating a world that runs entirely on green energy. It provided a clear timeline for their transformation and transparency on the balance of black and green energy being produced. It critically signaled the change through a new name and brand story. Ørsted, after the Danish scientist of the same name, is a brand built for the transition from black to green, empowering people, businesses and societies to unleash their potential.

Whereas the DONG Energy graduate scheme marketed itself for ‘highly skilled young professionals,’ the Ørsted graduate program welcomes ‘leaders, dreamers and problem-solvers’ to join them on a ‘two-year learning journey.’

Energizing talent acquisition

In order to hire top talent energy companies must demonstrate three things:

  1. Aim higher: the vision or purpose that guides them
  2. Tell a joined-up story: transcending the chasm between black and green
  3. Walk the talk: clarity on how they are making a positive contribution to the world, or how they are making green energy possible


Ben Osborne is our Head of Insights, EMEA