Dr. Daniel Gnoth (Senior Data Scientist, Powerco)
We are keen to learn! Developing a culture of continual learning and discovery
Every second, more data is being collected about the world than we will ever be able to read in a lifetime. The rate of technological innovation and scientific discovery are now occurring at a rate that is unprecedented, we are now solving problems just as fast as we are making them.
Last year the United Kingdom smashed almost every record there is for renewable energy. Wind power alone now generates twice as much electricity as coal. Chile has now managed to quadruple its clean energy sources since 2013, resulting in a 75% drop in the average cost of electricity. In 2017, for the first time, the EU generated more clean energy than coal (five years ago coal generated twice as much as renewables). And more than 1.2 billion people around the world have now gained access to electricity in the last 16 years. 500 million of those people live in India.
As the next generation here to automate your jobs, sip lattes and eat smashed avocadoes “we understand the world that is coming better than anyone. We live and breathe the world of fast pace information, communication and technology that will definitely impact our businesses and energy system.”
But in order to be successful in this fast-evolving world, our businesses need to ensure that they equip professionals with the tools to respond to emerging challenges. As Jonny has outlined the importance of innovation I will now discuss the value of maintaining a culture of continual learning and discovery.
I am a social scientist and data scientist and was lucky to enter the world of energy early on, albeit from what is still an unconventional background in this sector. When I was at university lecturers challenged my market research class to investigate the social drivers behind energy consumption. For me this triggered a fascination with how our practices shape energy demand and empowering ability of energy systems to improve our quality of life.
But how could we as consumers change the impact of our consumption when it is tied into every facet of our culture and our identity? This led me into years of intriguing research delving into the structures which mold our everyday habits and routines which we social scientists like to call the socio-technical system.
I was fortunate enough to then help coordinate an energy research centre which brought together academics across the spectrum working on energy related issues. For me this normalized the perspective that energy is multifaceted, and the expectation that people need to share their discoveries and insights to challenge and grow our thinking. From the physics of thermodynamics and energy systems to the structure of markets and regulatory policies, the energy sector is not something one can easily conquer overnight.
I have relished the opportunity now to step outside of academia and engage with industry to understand equally complex challenge of providing secure systems of supply. My awesome job gives me multiple opportunities to engage across our business and our sector to explore the future challenges of our industry.
I am extremely grateful to be supported in my role in the Future Energy Leaders (or FEL) programme which has provided an invaluable perspective to the initiatives and workings of the wider energy sector. Having the chance to collaborate with a diverse group of enthusiastic and talented professionals on themes such as digitalization, decentralization and decarbonization has shown me that our industry can excel at providing environments to challenge our thinking and broaden our perspectives.
What skills we come with
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits our new professionals come with is that we are all too aware that our industry is changing. With this apprehension we are perhaps more willing to accept that the economics behind our energy system will evolve, and we are ready to adapt to new business models as they emerge.
We have grown up with technology and are ready to use it. As artificial intelligence enters more and more parts of our lives, we are ready to embrace the opportunities it provides and challenge what it means to be humans. We are becoming efficient at fact checking and self-learning, for example having one screen up with a web browser is commonplace in my teams. We don’t expect to have all the answers right away, but we are becoming more comfortable with how to find them.
We aren’t afraid of navigating public and private forums of dialogue. I have a WhatsApp group for work, leadership, family and friends. We can be learning and engaging with each other from all parts of the world instantly, in my FEL group we are able to celebrate personal achievements and share relevant papers and initiatives instantly.
Our collaborative networks are becoming increasingly relevant for our learning and engagement. Our increasing reliance on social platforms stresses the importance that we as professionals still need meaningful guidance. We need guidance to determine real from fake, threats from opportunities and most importantly the cool voice of reason amongst the torrent of uncertainty.
What the industry needs to do; facilitate a culture of learning
For this, we look to those with more experience to help navigate the rich tapestry of the energy industry and make sense of the unwritten rules, historical contexts and constantly changing structure. The need for a culture of learning is vital to let questions be asked without reciprocity, and to have a forum that stimulates engagement and participation.
As our backgrounds and skills become increasingly diverse, the importance an energy 101 are paramount; not only around the nuances of the industry but also in the basics of physics that underpin our energy system. Similarly, those who have developed a technical proficiency also need opportunities to keep abreast of new innovations and build cross sector knowledge.
The multitude of tasks involved in our industry make it easier sometimes to outsource resource, but don’t lose the opportunities to build greater competency within your organization. More roles are increasingly requiring analytical and even programming skills to help compliment the job, rather than being the sole focus.
We also have the opportunity to reach outside our industry to engage the public on energy issues and our schools to engage the next generation. For example, enviro schools programmes have shown higher competency with understanding power, and how to manage it. Schools that have invested in solar panels are finding the greatest benefits come from having a tangible resource by which to inspire learning and discovery.
At university, are we challenging young academics to consider our questions? I am living proof how one research question from another discipline sparked an entire new journey of discovery. There are a lot of exciting ways to involve students in sector issues, for example MINZ (Mathematics in Industry New Zealand) holds a yearly hackathon whereby upcoming data scientist are tackling such things asset health and risk to failure models and solar PV forecasting.
I love the practical requirement for engineering students to take a role in industry during their summer breaks. At our business we are actively broadening this initiative by bringing in summer students from mathematics and statistics backgrounds to tackle immerging challenges and questions as well as to build on the analytical capabilities of our organization. This not only provides a chance for our business to ask questions which are novel or timely, but it also gives a platform for students to share their findings with the rest of the business and grow sector knowledge.
However, we don’t expect to just be on the receiving end of your kind generosity and infinite wisdom. We see the discipline of learning as a two-way street. Even simple initiatives such as brown bag lunches can be a great way for young professionals to share in the findings of their work and experience to other parts of the organization, or to give specialists a chance to share about their learnings from engagement with other sectors. The very chance that we get to speak to you today shows precedent on how our industry is embracing ways to increase dialogue and share knowledge across our respective generations.
So, our challenge to you is that within your own organization what opportunities do you provide people to learn and develop? Are there chances to work across teams and departments? Move around the company? Collaborate with other industry players?
We all benefit from the opportunity to learn a different perspective, to challenge our assumptions and to gain new skills and resources. As yesterday’s role becomes highly automated tomorrows will challenge our current thinking of what it means to be human. And as today’s generation create a hashtag out of yesterday’s saying, you only live once.
Margie McCrone (Regulatory Advisor, Genesis)
What I’ll be speaking about
Where Jonny has talked about fostering creativity and innovation, and Dan about creating an environment for continual learning, I’m going to focus on providing opportunities for young professionals to engage with their business and the wider industry.
I’ll particularly focus on why mentoring is important and how we can do more of it.
First up, a bit about me – I’m currently working as a regulatory advisor at Genesis Energy.
Prior to this I was a research analyst at Freeman Media. Funnily enough one of my jobs at Freeman Media was to help brainstorm content for this very conference, so speaking at it myself feels somewhat strange - but good.
I started in the energy industry in the same way it seems a lot of people do - by accident. I was looking for part-time work as a student as Energy News was just launching. Then instead of becoming a lawyer as planned, I stayed on after finishing my degree.
At both Freeman Media and Genesis, I’ve been fortunate to grow two things I truly think are invaluable to any young professional starting out in their career: knowledge of the sector, and a network of contacts.
What I hope to achieve today is to explore what the industry leaders in this room can do to help young professionals to build their own networks to engage with as they pave their way forward in the sector.
Why does engagement matter?
In my view, engagement can be a bit of a fluffy catch-all for what is actually a critical, often underappreciated, means of professional development for people in all stages of their careers.
For young energy professionals particularly, engagement has been recognised as one of the critical factors in attracting, developing and retaining talent in the sector.
Among its recent recommendations, the Future Energy Leaders’ taskforce on human capital suggested all industry leaders around the world should take an active role in knowledge transfer and prioritise mentorship to best engage their young talent.
[The FEL by the way is a fantastic global collective of young energy professionals who come together to shape the global future of the sector. We are lucky to have one of New Zealand’s representatives on stage today – Dan – and Bennet Tucker and Tina Frew also do us proud on the FEL.]
Mentoring is one of the best ways to engage young professionals in the industry by ensuring they gain access to constructive career advice, knowledge about the sector and professional introductions.
As Margaret Bjork puts it, it also helps them connect the dots between their abilities and their potential, their goals and their successes.
Within the businesses represented in this room, I know a lot of you are already doing some great things on this front. I can speak for myself and say I’ve had some excellent mentorship so far in my career, for which I’m very grateful. But there is more we can do as businesses and as a sector to ensure engagement opportunities are there for all who seek them.
At its most simple, mentoring is where a more experienced person provides guidance to a less experienced person. So it doesn’t necessarily need to mean the traditional one-to-one relationship that is formalised and runs to a timeline - it can take many different shapes and forms. The more we can embrace this the better.
In fact, more and more thinking in this area is pointing to the value in having ‘mentoring moments’ with different people at different levels rather than a single mentor, which means you end up getting useful advice from a whole network of mentors that you can call on when needed.
With this in mind, we have been thinking about how to initiate more ‘mentoring moments’ across the industry in a way that’s easy, fun and doesn’t require too much of a time commitment. An idea that has been taking shape is to create an industry-wide #randomcoffee scheme.
You may not have heard of the #randomcoffee concept before, and neither had I until a colleague of mine Sam Fowler introduced it at Genesis.
Based off a scheme run by a US company, the basic idea is to have employees from different departments matched up randomly so they can get to know one another over a cup of coffee once a month of once a quarter – time is dependent on preference.
Ultimately, over the course of the year, you’d have the chance to engage with 12 (or 4 if you were doing it quarterly) of your colleagues you may not otherwise cross paths with.
I know this has been a really neat thing at Genesis to-date and I've really enjoyed my #randomcoffees. I've caught up with one of our trading analysts, a marketing manager, our receptionist and most recently a colleague who was new to my team but we hadn't had a chance to chat much yet.
Engaging with colleagues in this way has meant I've learned more about different parts of the business, and can now turn to those people for help in the future.
So here’s our call for action
Using this as a mentoring tool is not too much of a stretch if you consider we have a pool of young professionals in the YEPN that would love the opportunity to be matched with a pool of more senior energy professionals – such as those of you in this room – to catch up periodically.
We think this concept could really be worthwhile exploring further as it could be a great chance to engage young professionals in the sector by sharing knowledge and experience.
The commitment would be simply to sit down for coffee with one person at a time and use the time to explore each other’s professional expertise and interests.
What we would like from you now is to please let us know if you’re willing to get involved, or have any feedback or suggestions – say for example if you had a view on how often we should set up coffees, or how best to get widespread take up.
There are two ways to do this: email us at (the address on the slide) with your name and contact details, or register your interest in the Downstream post-event survey.
We really look forward to hearing from you and would be in touch once we had enough interest to get things running!
Jonny Parker (Energy Manager, Victoria University)
My names Jonathan, I'm from Victoria University, with me speaking today is Daniel Gnoth from Powerco and Margie McCrone from Genesis energy.
Firstly thank you kindly for having us along today. It’s great to be invited to such a cool conference.
We are jointly here today to represent the Young Energy Professionals Network.
(Or YEPN! As I like to call it)
The Young Energy Professionals Network is a knowledge sharing platform to support and the collaboration between professionals from diverse backgrounds and different organizations.
Supported by the Business Energy Council (who have done an amazing job backing it).
Founded as part of the Future Energy Leaders programme; this inclusive platform is neutral ground to discuss the challenges and solutions relevant to the industry and the citizens we proudly serve.
It’s basically a free membership body to get together and learn from each other through sharing our own stories and what challenges we see coming up within the energy sector.
We are here today to talk to you about human capital!
We are here to talk about young professionals, and the skills they will need in order to continually adapt and evolve within an ever changing industry.
Many of these professionals entering the ranks will be a mixture of Millennials and Gen Y.
Do we have any Millennials here today? (Raise your hands)
How about any Gen Y's?
I was recently discussing with a friend recently as to how personally I I’m often not sure if I’m a Gen Y or a Millennial........
He explained that perhaps I should be called a ‘Genital’……..
I turned him down on this kind assessment…
Love or hate them, this digital generation will be the life blood bringing a wave of change that’s already underway in the energy industry.
They are on a mission to create a fairer cleaner world.
They are impatient and will waste no time in excelling by standing on the shoulders of the giants.... before putting a hashtag on them.
However before they do change the world; they will need support if they are to innovate, collaborate, and continually learn in order to develop new business and solve new challenges.
I will discuss with you shortly some high level ideas that could help foster creativity and innovation.
Daniel will then follow with a focus on the need for continual access to learning and knowledge.
Lastly Margie with discuss ideas on how to engage with others and strike new professional relationships to create mentoring opportunities.
We would like to quickly remind folks that the views and ideas expressed here are our own and not the views of our employers……
So fingers crossed we won’t get sacked.
So why are we doing this?...
The way energy is generated, traded, and consumed is changing at a rapid rate.
Consumer expectations are evolving in the face of greater environmental awareness, desire for independent resilience, and greater competitive choice.
Energy seems to be no longer the core product of the industry.
The desire for improved cleaner technology, data accessibility and resilience are in themselves becoming one of many products on offer.
With such changing terrain how to do we ensure professionals within the energy sector remain enthusiastic, flexible, and adaptable?
How do we become leaders that seed innovation as oppose to people merely reacting to it?
My journey into the energy industry has been a random one.
I started life as a packaging designer in the UK where I decided to specialize in more sustainable packaging and branding.
I wanted to make greener choices more vibrant and mainstream for the masses rather than for the niche hessian greens.
I later left to start my own business that offered innovations that saved resources through design or function.
During this stage I learned about micro generation, energy saving construction and energy auditing. I gleamed any knowledge I could from industry sources, training, articles, and suppliers.
Since washing up on the shores of New Zealand after a global wander I've covered many energy based roles from humble (often covered in mud) residential energy assessor to business development manager, PV designer, EV Equipment specialist to commercial energy management.
I've grown to realize that helping to develop 'ideas and solutions' are my key drivers in life, and its working with others to test and build new things I find truly exciting.
I'm an eco-geek and proud of it.
Young professionals are driven individuals with a desire to leave a mark.
We seek purpose and are united in movements for a better fairer planet.
Growing up we were told we could do anything we put our minds to, and we often blindly believe it.
We have energy often perceived as impatience.
We are also suckers for instant gratification, and seek it regularly for reassurance......
So for the more experienced generation please bear with us, and tolerate us snowflakes as best you can!
Our generation are unlikely to have single profession. We will need many over the years to evolve with technology and changing demands.
We also know with the early dawn of AI and machine learning on the horizon. We may have to look to the unique human capital skill of creativity and inventiveness to cement our contribution.
So what sort of skills would ensure this contribution?
Well, we will need the ability to spot opportunities. This will require a clear lens of view to identify missing gaps to improve our industry and planet.
We will have to be fast at interpreting data and identifying risk in a broader context.
Wider experience & understanding will also be needed. Being an expert in one area could no longer be a career benefit.
We have to grow and learn about all functions of the industry and its customers in a wider context if we are to truly innovate and contribute.
And what about collaborative wisdom?
We tend to want to protect and hide good ideas.
Whilst this protects you or your company it can prohibit innovation.
At some point it will be necessary to collaborate with other parties such as competitors to truly test and develop an idea into a real world solution.
Doing this safety will require a spirit of openness..... doused in wisdom.
Learning to work with your legal teams to protect ideas by building a foundation of understanding will be more beneficial,
as opposed to building a wall to hide it behind for personal commercial gain.
Sharing ideas with defined conditions truly is better.
This is an imperative point if we are to avoid missing the opportunity.
It's better to own a little of something than a lot of nothing.
So what can the industry do as a whole to foster innovation?
Well Diversity is one idea.
Ensuring diversity of experience, age, gender, culture and qualifications can only boost creative output.
When filling positions we can often avoid the CV's from parties from unconnected industries or backgrounds for the fear of placing a square pegs in a round holes.
However creating a melting pot of diversity could become a strength to provide the industry with the DNA it needs to evolve.
We could reward & encourage entrepreneurism.
If someone's brain child has commercial viability why not reward them with a share of their idea? Could they receive income from it, or even run it on behalf of the company?
What about Innovation sabbaticals? If a creative idea has merit can the author of the idea be given leave to focus and grow the concept?
Can roles be designed with flexibility for faster handover in order to create time and space for 'innovation vacations' that are worthy of exploration?
What about a safe space for ideas?
Making creative thoughts and ideas public across the meeting table will often result in critical responses.
Having a creative thought torn-up can hurt, we can be tempted to not say anything out of fear of looking stupid.
If we all held onto ideas and said nothing out of fear no product could ever evolve and no business could be done.
So building a positive environment where ideas can be verbalized and critiqued in a positive frame is a simple way to boost confidence and creativity amongst professionals.
And lastly 'Freedom of movement' Focus has traditionally been on retaining good staff for a long as possible.
Whilst this has merit; good staff will often move to gain new experience.
Making it easier for employees to move sideways within the organization or wider industry could result in an overall improved quality of innovation.
Wider broader work experience may allow professionals to spot hidden market opportunity and efficiency improvements.
Creative innovation can make or break a company.
Commercial development and change can be expensive, risky, and hard.
However to ignore creative input through fear of failure can only result in one path.......... safe, comfortable, slow failure.
So let’s encourage, reward, and manage creativity so we all can continue to adapt and take risk to build a brave new world together.
Thank you for your time, I’ll now hand you over to Daniel who will cover the importance of continued learning.