Engage the Next Generation of Energy Leaders

Millennials have landed in the workforce. This is the generation that marketing and lifestyle gurus have been attempting to dissect, and now senior executives are starting to internalize what all the fuss was about—Millennials are a little different.

At Student Energy, we’re working with university students to create the next generation of energy leaders. We utilize energy education, creative communications, and large-scale events as tools to empower students around the globe. Our programs educate, inspire, and unite youth to act on a shared vision for a sustainable energy future. We’ve had great results. Alumni have gone on to found small solar companies, advise the United Nations, and join the ranks of the world’s largest energy companies.

What we have seen proven over and over is that every company and organization can gain from engaging younger generations. This generation is ready to work hard and push forward bold visions for the future. Their worldviews are influencing how corporations operate, and even how power companies generate electrons.

The power industry needs to harness the next generation of top talent and leverage their skills to stay relevant as technologies change. To get bright minds in the door, and to keep them, here are some key considerations to keep in mind.

Motivation

Young people who are passionate about energy typically have a deep understanding of how it affects the world around them. Yet, for each person, the desire to engage with energy systems comes from a different place.

A great example from Student Energy’s history is a panel we hosted on smart grids. The students were excitedly debating how smart grids could transform electricity distribution. Then a girl from India put up her hand and said, “Yes, smart grids have a lot of potential, but in my hometown we do not need a smart grid, we just need a grid. Right now, my brother is studying by candlelight.”

That comment turned the conversation on its head. Students from developed countries suddenly realized the vast impact that energy has on their lives—that energy has made it possible for them to study, travel, and have access to modern amenities.

But this story also illustrates the broad metanarrative behind why young people become passionate about energy. Everyone on that stage saw how grid technology affected their future, from the potential of a smart grid to energy access, each of them knew power infrastructure could significantly alter their lives.

When energy companies want to recruit engaged, driven young people, they should be able to speak to their motivations. Companies that attract the best talent can clearly articulate a vision for how they will contribute to energy systems of the future, and what impacts the organization plans to have.

Innovation

Millennials believe in business solutions. They know that the world faces a multitude of problems, they have watched the world stall in trying to solve them, but they still feel hopeful that we can create solutions. Growing up in the digital age, young people have experienced the potential of technological innovation, and now that they are hitting the workforce, they’re ready to make waves.

The great potential for power companies to work with younger professionals is that the innovative mindset has been shown to be negatively correlated with age. In fact, the vast majority of people who found companies are under 39. If you are looking to implement new technologies, enter new markets, or adapt to changing regulations, leveraging young minds may be your best bet.

Innovation for this generation is less about a shiny new phone, and more about collaboration and the joining of diverse technologies and concepts. If you are able to let motivated, young people run with new ideas, you can capture great results.

Purpose

Young people working in energy are looking for purpose. They want to have a meaningful answer to the question, “Why did I get up to go to work today?” For them it’s less about a large paycheck and more about feeling that their work contributes to a company that does good work that will impact the future. This is true for almost everyone in the Millennial generation. What’s different about young people in energy is what’s at stake when they look at the future of the industry.

People in their 20s are used to watching world leaders debate if the economy or the environment should take precedent in future plans, but this generation doesn’t buy that dichotomy. When we look forward to 2050, we want both a vibrant economy and a healthy environment—trading one for the other won’t cut it. Millennials believe we can have a future built on tangible solutions, and we’re willing to work hard to make it happen.

Communicate

To reach the next generation, adapt communications. When choosing whom to work with, Millennials look for authenticity. In the Google age, these people are good at getting instant answers, so they don’t want to hear what your marketing department has to say; they want authentic engagement.

The good news is, Millennials are easy to reach. Utilizing social platforms and clear, simple messages will go far in getting power companies and motivated young energy leaders headed in the same direction. Engage the future of energy, and reap the rewards. ■

Meredith Adler (meredith@studentenergy.org) is executive director, Student Energy.

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